Windows Phone and Windows 8 convergence: a few more hints from Microsoft

The moment when Nokia is in the midst of the US launch for its Lumia 900 phone, which both Nokia and Microsoft hope will win some market share for Windows Phone 7, is not the best time to talk about Windows Phone 8 from a marketing perspective. Especially when Windows Phone 8 will have a new kernel based on Windows 8 rather than Windows CE, news which was leaked in early February and made almost official by writer Paul Thurrott who has access to advance information under NDA:

Windows Phone 8, codenamed Apollo, will be based on the Windows 8 kernel and not on Windows CE as are current versions. This will not impact app compatibility: Microsoft expects to have over 100,000 Windows Phone 7.5-compatible apps available by the time WP8 launches, and they will all work fine on this new OS.

Nevertheless, Microsoft is talking a little about Windows Phone 8. Yesterday Larry Lieberman posted about the future of the Windows Phone SDK. After echoing Thurrott’s words about compatibility, he added:

We’ve also heard some developers express concern about the long term future of Silverlight for Windows Phone. Please don’t panic; XAML and C#/VB.NET development in Windows 8 can be viewed as a direct evolution from today’s Silverlight. All of your managed programming skills are transferrable to building applications for Windows 8, and in many cases, much of your code will be transferrable as well. Note that when targeting a tablet vs. a phone, you do of course, need to design user experiences that are appropriately tailored to each device.

Panic or not, these are not comforting words if you love Silverlight. Lieberman is saying that if you code today in Silverlight, you had better learn to code for WinRT instead in order to target future versions of Windows Phone.

The odd thing here is that while Lieberman says:

today’s Windows Phone applications and games will run on the next major version of Windows Phone.

(in bold so that you do not doubt it), he also says that “much of your code will be transferrable as well”. Which is equivalent to saying “not all your code will be transferrable.” So how is it that “non-transferrable code” nevertheless runs on Windows Phone 8 if already compiled for Window Phone 7? It sounds like some kind of compatibility layer; I would be interested to know more about how this will work.

I was also intrigued by this comment from Silverlight developer Morton Nielsen:

Its really hard to sell this investment to customers with all these rumors floating, and you only willing to say that my skill set is preserved is only fuel onto that. The fact is that there is no good alternative to Silverlight, and its an awesome solution for distribution LOB apps, but the experience on win8 is horrible at best. And it doesn’t help that the blend team is ignoring us with a final v5, and sl5 is so buggy it needs 100% DEET but we don’t see any GDRs any longer.

What are these acronyms? DEET just means insect repellent, ie. bug fixes. GDR is likely “General Distribution Release”; I guess Nielsen is saying that no bug-fix releases are turning up are turning up for Silverlight 5, implying that Microsoft has abandoned it.

All in all, this does not strike me as a particularly reassuring post for Windows Phone developers hoping that their code will continue to be useful, despite Lieberman’s statement that:

I hope we’ve dispelled some of your concerns

Still, it has been obvious for some time that WinRT, not Silverlight, is how Microsoft sees the future of its platform so nobody should be surprised.

Update: Several of you have commented that Lieberman talks about WinRT on Windows 8 not on Windows Phone 8. Nobody has said that WinRT will be on Windows Phone 8, only that the kernel will be the that of Windows 8 rather than Windows CE. That said, Lieberman does specifically refer to “the long term future of Silverlight for Windows Phone” and goes on to talk about WinRT. The implication is that WinRT is the future direction for Windows Phone as well as for Windows 8 on tablets. Maybe that transition will not occur until Windows Phone 9; maybe Windows Phone as an OS will disappear completely and become a form factor for Windows 8 or Windows 9. This aspect is not clear to me; if you know more, I would love to know.

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9 comments to Windows Phone and Windows 8 convergence: a few more hints from Microsoft

  • Amazing

    This is just simply amazing.

    Not only is Windows Phone struggling to get developers, now they are going to change the APIs on it once again?

  • tim

    Yes – but the bet is that any momentum *lost* by the change of APIs will be more than *gained* by the impact of a unified API on Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8.

    Tim

  • Ben

    Tim, the biggest mistake MSFT made was pulling the plug on Silverlight and at the same time ignore the developers with their inquires about SL’s future. This also gave a bad feeling to customers to start new projects with SL. So, us the developers suddenly lost our prospects and put us in a bad position to offer clients a solution.
    Then after what MSFT did without any regards to developers (F**k Developers, Developers,Developers), now they wants us to drop everything, jump on WinRT, spent our time, resources & money to build app for Win8 to promote Win8 for MSFT. Do they think developers are stupid to just jump back in and get cheated again?
    It’s like your wife suddenly drops you and does what she wants to do, then comes back and says, “Oh honey, take me back and while you’re at it, buy me a new car, new house and spend all your time with me…”. I think NOT!!!

  • Jules

    Windows 8, and presumably would be great if we could be convinced that Microsoft were building upon or surpassing their existing great .NET based Technologies (Silverlight, XNA etc) But they appear to be going down to the lowest common denominator HTML5/Javascript for Web wide Reach, or legacy C++/Direct X fro Games performance. XAML/C# Metro Apps, may preserve our C# and XAML skils but it is a long way off NOT being and effective replacement for Silverlight(Web) as it does not offer Web wide Reach.

    So its all pretty confused none motivating for us Silverlight, XNA .NET developers at the moment. Might as well develop flimsy little HTML5 Apps like Microsoft are encouraging us to do for iOS and Android markets, as Microsoft are no longer interested in us Developers anymore. So long Microsoft.

  • Jules

    I meant “and presumably Windows Phone 8 (Apollo) “

  • Microsoft has a fair chance to create a good phone. As far as development tools and architecture goes, their .net (clr) hal technology is lightyears ahead of apple. Say what you will about Microsoft, but they have managed to make their OS truly portable through the CLR. Their biggest problem is going from being an boring corporate “workhorse” into becomming a “experience provider”. Microsoft might have the technical grunt to do it, but they lack the visual and near artistic flair of Apple and the unifying philosophy of Google.
    Saving old time developers is not really interesting for them, they need new blood – and they have to re-invent themselves as artisans rather than corporate representatives. It will either work, or give the impression of a split personality (trying to cater to the corporate world while marketing like a relaxed hippie, which is basically what Steve Jobs managed to sell). Steve jobs was, at the heart, an old hippie without the pony tail and skate shoes.

  • I started to attempt to learn C# when I got my Windows Mobile phone (which incidentally I got when Microsoft made the announcement that Xbox Live would be available on it, something which of course came years too late to Windows Phone instead).

    It looked really promising how I could learn the .NET API on PC and immediately transfer those skills to the phone. Visual Studio made getting the basic UI working a breeze, however I immediately hit a snag when trying to learn how to do what I wanted with the .NET API. I would search the documentation for what I needed to do, find the relevant API call to do it, and find it wasn’t supported on the mobile version with no pointers as to how to proceed without it.

    I love the idea that after all this time they are finally realising that a unified API WAS the way to go, but I am hugely skeptical that this is any different to what they were doing back then .NET. I am suspicious that we will just end up in the same situation again, with key parts of the API just not supported on mobile. That might be alright for skilled developers who can find workarounds, but for a newbie its really confusing to have what at first glance appears to be the same API but with key differences.

    After hitting a dead end with Windows Mobile development I even dropped Windows as my default desktop OS in favour of Linux. Ironically it was Microsoft who gave me the “out” there as I ditched PC gaming in favour of Xbox 360, although again this was partly because they promised to unify Xbox Live over PC and Xbox then failed to deliver. Shortly after I also made the jump to Maemo 5 for my phone.

    Microsoft could have ruled the smartphone market if they had, well, been smart about it. However I fear its too little too late and am hugely distrustful of their promises to unify the API after being burned twice already on big promises of unification that never delivered quite what they had implied it would. The idea that they are still making such key changes to the OS this late in the game is worrying. It certainly doesn’t help that Windows Phone being a walled garden, its not as easy to jump in and get coding as it was on Windows Mobile either.

  • My take on it:

    PalmOS turned into WebOS -> dead
    Symbian turned into MeeGo -> operation system dead and I think Nokia won’t hold for too long.
    Blackberry turned into BBX -> almost dead
    WinMobile turned into Windows Phone 8 -> ??? (I will bet it will be dead too).

  • kinect_dev

    I don’t understand why MS doesn’t just call Xaml + C# on WinRT by a nice name… like Silverlight 6. Just say it’s Silverlight on the desktop and everyone will get it. Devs will feel warm and fuzzy and confident that their code investment will apply going forward. They should make a compatibility layer so that existing Silverlight desktop apps can run as metro apps. They should do the same for WP7 apps on WP8. Problem solved.