Microsoft’s Scott Guthrie has a blog post today about what’s new in Windows Presentation Foundation 4, and one of the things he mentions is Windows 7 multitouch support – as also described in this walkthrough – and integration with the Windows 7 taskbar, jump lists, icon overlays and so on. Taskbar support is wrapped in the System.Windows.Shell namespace in PresentationFramework.dll.
This means that Microsoft is making it easy for .NET developers to support Windows 7 in WPF applications. However it is not extending the same love to developers using Windows Forms, the older GUI framework. That said, there is always the Windows API Code Pack which covers many Windows 7 features including the taskbar and jump lists, or you can do your own COM and native code interop. No doubt with a bit of effort all the features can be be integrated into a Windows Forms application.
Still, there’s no doubt that Microsoft is now steering us towards WPF rather than Windows Forms for new desktop development. About time, you may say, considering that WPF first arrived in 2006. While that’s true, there have been good reasons to be cautious about adoption. WPF apps use more resources than Windows Forms applications, require the .NET Framework 3.0 or higher, and for a long time were talked down even by Microsoft as unsuitable for line of business applications.
That tune has now changed, though when you consider the large numbers of existing Windows Forms applications, and the fact that developers contemplating radical revisions or new projects may well be looking at web or rich internet clients, WPF is still something of a hard sell.
On the other hand, the improvements Guthrie describes are significant, not only for Windows 7 features, but also key areas like cached composition for graphics, which can greatly improve performance, and a new text rendering API.
It’s also worth noting that Windows Forms was never a great framework. It wraps the old Windows GUI API which makes resizable layouts and scaling for different display resolutions difficult, as well as lacking all the multimedia and effects goodness in WPF. Another factor is that WPF is designer friendly, with its own Expression Blend design tool. Windows Forms has nothing like that.
Is it possible that broad adoption for Windows 7 could see renewed interest in WPF and Windows development? I think it will happen to a limited degree, but will not really disrupt the underlying trend towards web and cross-platform.