Design & Develop for the present and future – WinRT, .NET, C++, HTML5

With the new HTML5, Windows 8, Metro , WinRT, ASP.NET MVC4 and other stuff coming out of Microsoft and other technology companies, the question is when should we care about Microsoft Design Language (formerly Metro) and WinRT from a development perspective? Here is the information from different sources like Gartner, Magenic, etc. that I found useful.

As per Research, Windows Phone will be No. 2 smartphone OS by 2015 according to Gartner, IDC.  The question to ask is how long it will take until Windows 8 is finally out and reached a critical mass. Coming to desktops, a lot of machines out there still run Windows XP. Windows 7 is way better and I guess the transition to Windows 8 will take even longer. Windows 8 will probably mainly pushed by non-PC multi-touch consumer devices in the near future. Win8 will probably RTM in time for hardware vendors to create, package, and deliver all sorts of machines for the 2012 holiday season. So probably somewhere between July and October 2012.

Understanding of some of the new common terms:

  • Windows 8 – the new operating system that runs in a “dual mode”: Desktop (Win32) and WinRT
  • Win32 – the OS API that supports today’s applications in Win8
  • WinRT – the new OS API that supports future applications
  • Metro – a user experience design language often used when building WinRT applications.
  • “WinRT apps” includes any/all apps written on the WinRT API.
  • “Metro apps” that are probably a WinRT app, that also follows the Metro user experience guidelines.

For consumer apps this means you might care about Win8 now, because you might want to make sure your cool app is in the Win8 online store for the 2012 launch. So you will start writing code using Windows 8 Runtime, Metro and bunch of other tools.

For business apps the timing is quite different. Corporations roll out a new OS much later than consumers get it through retailers. As an example, Windows 7 has now been out for about three years, but some corporations still use Windows XP!!! So for business apps, we can look at doing a reasonable amount of Win8 Metro development around 2014-2015.

Attached is the Technology Comparison Chart:image

* Note: combinations of factors not listed here may point to two or more UI technologies being needed.

  1. If touch is needed in the future, application can be designed to Metro style standards.
  2. Windows 8 phones are planned to be supported with Metro applications.
  3. HTML5/JS Metro applications could be selected if there is an internal skill set for that technology.
  4. WebForms are generally considered an older technology, in general use ASP MVC unless there is a compelling reason to use WebForms.
  5. For applications not in the app store, a deployment system will be needed.
  6. Mono may make app store approval more difficult.
  7. Windows Phone 7 leverages .NET skill sets.

Some of us will be lucky enough to work for “type A” companies that jump on new things as they come out, and we’ll get to build Metro apps starting in Q1- Q2 2012.

Most of us work for “type B” companies, and they’ll roll out a new OS after SP1 has been deployed by the “type A” companies – these are the companies that will deploy Win8 after has been out for 1-2 years.

Some unfortunate souls work for “type C” companies, and they’ll roll out Win8 when Win7 loses support (so around 2018?).  That’s a hard place to find yourself as a developer. Yet those companies do exist even today.

What does this all mean? It means that for a typical corporate or business developer, we have around 2-3 years from today before we’re building WinRT apps. The logical question to ask then (and you really should ask this question), is what do we do for the next 2-3 years? How do we build software between now and when we get to use Metro/WinRT? Obviously the concern is that if you build an app starting today, how do you protect that investment so you don’t have to completely rewrite the app in 3 years?

This flowchart by the Telerik guys sums it up pretty nicely.


Clearly any app that uses multiple windows or modal dialogs (or really any dialogs) will not migrate to Metro without some major rework. The one remaining concern is the new run/suspend/resume/terminate application model. Even Silverlight doesn’t use that model today – except on WP7. I think some thought needs to go into application design today to enable support for suspend in the future. I don’t have a great answer right at the moment, but I know that I’ll be thinking about it, because this is important to easing migrations in the future.

It is true that whatever XAML you use today won’t move to WinRT unchanged. Well, I can’t say that with certainty, but the reality is that WinRT exposes several powerful UI controls we don’t have today. And any Metro style app will need to use those WinRT controls to fit seamlessly into the Win8 world. For better compatibility with future versions of Windows, it seems sticking to the XAML path would be more beneficial. What does this mean for developers? Well, if you are on .NET today, you can simply start learning the new WinRT using the XAML/C#/VB route and start creating Metro apps. If you are a HTML/CSS/JS developer, ramp up on HTML5/CSS3 and the JavaScript extensions and frameworks available as well as the WinRT code. If you want to build an application that would run both on Windows 7 and Windows 8 you can create it with XAML and then for Windows 8 also provide a Metro XAML frontend. We will of course need to see how all of this comes together as we start getting more information out of Microsoft.

Conversion Strategies:


No existing technologies map directly to the WinRT platform. Figure 4 shows how existing technologies map to the Windows 8 development platform. As you can see, all existing technologies map directly to the Windows 8 desktop environment. This is illustrated by the green lines, indicating that these applications are expected to work in Windows 8 with no effort.

The yellow line for Silverlight indicates that many Silverlight applications can be migrated to WinRT with reasonable effort. We will discuss this in more detail later in the paper.

The red line for WPF indicates that migration to WinRT is possible, but will require more substantial effort.

The red dashed line for HTML indicates that development skills will transfer, and a limited amount of existing HTML, CSS, and code assets may apply to WinRT application development.

Applications written using existing technologies will require effort to migrate to WinRT. For applications written with technologies other than Silverlight and WPF, the term “rewrite” is probably more accurate than “migrate”.

In summary, Windows 8, WinRT, and Metro are a big deal. But not in the way most people seem to think. The .NET/C#/CLR/BCL story is evolutionary and just isn’t that big a deal. It is the user experience and application lifecycle story that will require the most thought and effort as we build software over the next several years. These are good challenges, and I very much look forward to building .NET applications that deeply integrate with Windows 8. People will ultimately be building business applications on WinRT. Those apps may or may not be strictly “Metro”, but by running on WinRT they’ll gain the benefits of the new runtime API, services, and application model.

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