Tag Archives: silverlight

Windows Phone 7 apps, stats and future

Justin Angel, a former Microsoft employee who worked on Silverlight, has posted his analysis of the 24,505 apps he found in the Windows Phone 7 marketplace, exploiting a loophole that lets you get the download links. A few highlights:

  • 97% of the apps are not obfuscated, meaning that it is trivial (with easily available tools) to decompile the source.
  • 90% are Silverlight vs 10% XNA. This is not so much an indicator of the popularity of the two frameworks, but more an indicator of how many apps are graphic-rich games rather than some other kind of utility. Of course if you are making a very simple app, Silverlight is easier than XNA, so that may be a factor too.
  • 99% are C# vs 1% Visual Basic and a smattering of F#. A fascinating stat that makes me wonder what is the future of Visual Basic.

There are more interesting stats about libraries and components used, for which I refer you to the original post.

Does it matter? Well, Windows Phone 7 has not been a big success so far, though the reasons for that are not so much the quality of the OS or the ease of developing apps, but rather its low profile at retail and the fact that most operators and manufacturers don’t really need it: Apple and Android between them pretty much have the market.

That said, there are a few reasons why Windows Phone or some evolution of it may yet be significant. Nokia is betting on it, and while Nokia is undoubtedly in difficulties, this must work in Microsoft’s favour. Further, fear uncertainty and doubt surrounding Android patent and copyright issues may persuade some industry players to give Windows Phone another look.

Perhaps more significantly, when Microsoft unveils its developer strategy at the BUILD conference next week, it is likely that the application model in Windows Phone, or some evolution of it, will integrate with what is planned for Windows 8. NVIDIA is already talking about how Windows 8 will run Windows Phone apps.

For these reasons I believe there is at least a glimmer of hope for Microsoft in the mobile world; certainly the developer story to be officially told next week will be an interesting one.

Adobe says role of Flex and Flash has changed, makes play for mobile

Adobe’s Andrew Shorten has posted on the future of Flex, the developer-oriented tool for building applications for the Flash runtime.

This is one of the clearest statements I have seen from Adobe that recognises that the role of Flash on the web is diminishing:

There are countless examples where, in the past, Flex was (rightly) selected as the only way to deliver a great user experience. Today, many of those could be built using HTML5-related technologies and delivered via the browser, and at Adobe, we will provide tooling to help designers and developers create those experiences – Edge and Muse are two such examples.

Adobe is not giving up on Flash, of course, and states that it is still the best for certain categories of application:

We firmly believe that Flex is already the best technology for building complex, high fidelity enterprise applications such as business dashboards, line of business tools, real time trading applications and desktop replacement applications.

I would add both statements are written from the perspective of application developers. The role of Flash as a video and multimedia player is a separate issue. Flash is also important in that context. There is some overlap, in that if your application includes multimedia content then Flash is correspondingly more attractive.

As an aside, it is interesting to note that this repositioning of Flash makes it not so different from Microsoft’s Silverlight: a runtime for business applications.

Adobe is focusing on a new market for Flex in mobile. This overcomes the Apple iOS problem, since you can compile a Flex application to iOS native code. Adobe promises “additional mobile development capabilities” later this year and says:

In our next major release timeframe we expect that the need to build a fully-native application will be reserved for a small number of use cases.

I agree that cross-platform mobile development is a key area and one where there is no clear winner yet. It is a good opportunity for Adobe, though there is increasing competition from the products like Appcelerator Titanium and PhoneGap.

I also think that Embarcadero’s new RAD Studio XE2 will attract interest. This tool which will be released soon does native code compilation across Windows, Mac and Apple iOS, with Android promised, using the Delphi IDE and language.

C# vs C++ and .NET vs Mono vs Compact Framework performance tests

A detailed benchmark posted on codeproject investigates the performance of basic operations including string handling, hash tables, math generics, simple arithmetic, sorting, file scanning and (for C#) platform invoke of native code. These are the conclusions:

  • There is only a small performance penalty for C# on the desktop versus C++.
  • Mono is generally slower than Microsoft .NET but still acceptable, and all the benchmarks ran without modification.
  • The Compact Framework, an implementation of .NET for mobile devices, performs poorly.

My observations: this matches my own experiments. Why then do some .NET applications still perform badly? When Evernote switched its application from .NET to native code it got much better performance.

The main reason is a couple of issues that this kind of benchmark hides. One is the GUI layer, which involves a ton of platform invoke code under the covers. Another is the large size of .NET applications because of the runtime and library overhead; a lot more stuff gets loaded into memory.

One thing to like about Silverlight is that it is truly optimized for client programming and load time tends to be faster than for a desktop .NET application.

Note that for mobile these benchmarks suggest that C++ still has a big advantage. It would be interesting to see them applied to Silverlight apps on Windows Phone 7. As I understand it, the Silverlight .NET runtime in Windows Phone 7 shares code with the Compact Framework on Windows Mobile, so it is possible that the poor results for the Compact Framework would also apply to Silverlight on Windows Phone 7. Unfortunately developers do not have the option for C++ on Windows Phone 7.

Common sense on Windows 8, Silverlight and .NET

I am wary about writing another post on this subject in the absence of any further news, but since there is a lot of speculation out there I thought it would be worth making a few further observations.

Will Windows 8 support Silverlight and/or some other variety of .NET in its new touch-centric mode? I will be astonished if it does not. Aside from other considerations, this is an essential unifying piece between the Windows Phone 7 developer platform and the Windows 8 developer platform, which from what we have seen have a similar user interface. For further evidence, try an internet search for “Jupiter” and “appx”.

Why isn’t Microsoft already shouting about this? A good question. Part of the answer is that Microsoft wants to get developers enthused about the forthcoming build conference in September, and is holding back information.

Another part of the answer is that Windows historically has kept .NET as a layer above the operating system, rather than as part of it. We saw this in Windows 7, where to take advantage of new features like jump lists or thumbnail toolbars, .NET developers had to use a supplementary Windows API Code Pack. The Windows team delivered only native code or COM APIs.

Admittedly, there are differences this time around. The Windows team is not just delivering native code APIs, but also an HTML and JavaScript API. This is a break with the past, hence the talk of a new platform.

When it comes to desktop applications, would not Silverlight or something .NET based be a better choice than HTML5? I can see both sides of this. On one side is all the effort Microsoft has invested in .NET and Silverlight over the past decade. As I’ve noted before, I see Silverlight as what client-side .NET should have been from the beginning, lightweight, secure, simple installation, but with support for C# and much of the .NET Framework which developers know so well.

On the other hand, I can see Microsoft wanting to tap into the wave of HTML5 development and to make it easy for web developers to build apps for Windows 8.

In the end, developers will most likely have the choice. That puts pressure on Microsoft’s developer division to provide strong tools for two different development models; but I think that is what we will get.

Is .NET itself under threat? As far as I am aware, Microsoft has no plan “B” in terms of web and application server technology, and its Azure cloud is largely a .NET platform though there are are efforts to support other things like PHP and Java. Further, this aspect of the Microsoft Platform is under Server and Tools which is 100% behind .NET as far as I can tell. We have also seen Silverlight crop up in the user interfaces for new server products like InTune and System Center. On the server then, there is no evidence for .NET doubts at Microsoft; and considering the trend towards cloud+device computing the server is now at the heart of most business application development.

That said, Microsoft has challenges in sustaining .NET momentum. It cannot afford to fail with Azure, yet other platforms such as Amazon EC2 have greater developer mindshare as cloud computing platforms. VMWare with its Java-based Spring framework is another key competitor. Microsoft was late to the server virtualisation party with Hyper-V. I also see declining market share for IIS versus Apache in Netcraft’s statistics, although these figures are distorted by millions of little-used domains that get shunted from one platform to another by major hosting providers.

Further, it seems to me that the fortunes of .NET on the server cannot be completely separated from what happens on the client. One of the attractions of .NET is the integration between client and server, with Visual Studio as the tool for both. Windows has lost momentum to Apple in mobile, in tablets, and in high-end laptops, making Windows-only clients less attractive. In that context, the decision of the Windows team to favour HTML5 over .NET is a blow, in that it seems to concede that the future client is cross-platform, though I expect there will be some sort of outcry when we see all the proprietary hooks Microsoft has implemented to get HTML5 apps integrated into Windows 8.

Therefore these really are difficult times for .NET. I do not count Microsoft out though; it still dominates business computing, and amongst consumers the Xbox may prove an important new platform as Tom Warren notes.

While I have reservations about Windows 8, it does demo nicely as a new touch-centric operating system and Microsoft surely has chances in the corporate world with new-style tablets that integrate with its system management tools and which run Microsoft Office.

Finally, the angst over the role of .NET in Windows 8 shows that many developers actually like the platform, including Visual Studio, the C# language, the .NET Framework, and XAML for building a rich user interface.

Considering Windows 8 as an HTML platform

Amongst all the fuss about whether Microsoft is deprecating Silverlight or even client-side .NET, it is easy to lose sight of the other angle on this. What are the implications of Microsoft embracing HTML and JavaScript as a new first-class Windows development platform? Here’s the quote again:

Today, we also talked a bit about how developers will build apps for the new system. Windows 8 apps use the power of HTML5, tapping into the native capabilities of Windows using standard JavaScript and HTML to deliver new kinds of experiences. These new Windows 8 apps are full-screen and touch-optimized, and they easily integrate with the capabilities of the new Windows user interface.

When Microsoft introduced IE9 with hardware-accelerated graphics, support for some key parts of HTML 5, and a new fast JavaScript engine, it was not only trying to recover ground in the browser wars. It also had in mind a new application runtime for Windows, for desktop as well as for web applications.

In order to achieve this, we can expect more hooks between the browser engine and the local operating system. There is potential security risk, but Microsoft of all companies will be sensitive to this and I would expect it to get the security right. The further implication is that some parts of a Windows HTML application will be Windows-specific. It is an “Embrace and extend” strategy, as I noted in this Register article back in September last year when former Silverlight product manager Scott Barnes broke the story of how the Windows team at Microsoft was favouring HTML and JavaScript above .NET.

The rationale for this is two-fold. First, I’m guessing that Microsoft thinks it will work better. Although .NET client apps are now commonplace, especially for custom business applications, problems like slow start-up and heavy memory requirements never really went away, though I would argue that in Silverlight they are almost eliminated.

Second, HTML and JavaScript is a universal programming platform. With the new model, any developer who can code a web page can also code a Windows app. Corporate VP Michael Angiulo said at Computex in Taipei:

Windows 8’s new application platform … is based on HTML 5, JavaScript and CSS, the most widely understood programming languages of all time. These languages form the backbone of the web, so that on day 1 when Windows 8 ships hundreds of millions of developers will already know how to build great apps for Windows 8.

These are both compelling arguments. Nevertheless, there are several reasons why making Windows an HTML platform might not be the instant hit that Microsoft will be hoping for. Here are a few:

  • Microsoft’s Visual Studio is .NET oriented. It does have a web design tool, Expression Web, which is OK but still falls short compared to Adobe Dreamweaver. Web designers tend to use Dreamweaver anyway, thanks to Mac compatibility and integration with other Adobe tools. Even Dreamweaver is not great as an application development tool, as opposed to a web design tool. Tooling is a problem, and it is fair to say that whatever goodies Microsoft comes up with in this area will likely be a step back compared to what it already has for C# or C++.
  • Standards are a mixed blessing if you are trying to sell an operating system. If Microsoft does such a good job of standards support that the same apps run with minor tweaks on an iPad and on Android, users may do just that. If Microsoft encumbers the standards with too many proprietary extensions, the universality of the platform is lost.
  • Windows plus HTML and JavaScript sounds a lot like Palm/HP WebOS, which has gained favourable reviews but has yet to take off in terms of sales. Otherwise, Palm would not have been taken over by HP.
  • The question of whether HTML and JavaScript will really take over app development is open. I certainly hear voices saying so. I interviewed Nitobi’s president André Charland, in charge of PhoneGap, and he makes a good case. On the other hand, App development today is still dominated by platform-specific development, Objective C for Apple iOS and Java on Dalvik, the Google Android virtual machine.
  • The standard in HTML/JavaScript app platforms is not Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, but WebKit, as used in iOS and in Google Android and Chrome. Microsoft did great work in standards support in IE9, but so far it has not stopped its browser share decline. Worldwide figures from StatCounter show Internet Explorer in continuing slow decline overall, and Chrome still growing and set to overtake Firefox in a year or so.

In other words, there is little evidence that embracing HTML and JavaScript as an app platform will ensure success for Windows 8.

That said, other factors count for more. Developers will go where their customers are, and if Microsoft turns out a version of Windows that wins substantial market share in the emerging tablet market as well as on traditional notebooks, the new platform will be a hit.

The risk though is that the market will continue to perceive Windows as an OS for desktop and laptop, and look to iOS or Android for mobile and touch devices. The dual personality of Windows 8 may count against it, if it means devices that are compromised by having to support both user interface models.

Microsoft refuses to comment as .NET developers fret about Windows 8

There is a long discussion over on the official Silverlight forum about Microsoft’s Windows 8 demo at D9 and what was said, and not said; and another over on Channel 9, Microsoft’s video-centric community site for developers.

At D9 Microsoft showed that Windows 8 has a dual personality. In one mode it has a touch-centric user interface which is an evolved version of what is on Windows Phone 7. In another mode, just a swipe away, it is the old Windows 7, plus whatever incremental improvements Microsoft may add. Let’s call it the Tiled mode and the Classic mode.

Pretty much everything that runs on Windows today will likely still run on Windows 8, in its Classic mode. However, the Tiled mode has a new development platform based on HTML and JavaScript, exploiting the rich features of HTML 5, and the fast JavaScript engine and hardware acceleration in the latest Internet Explorer.

Although D9 is not a developer event, Microsoft did talk specifically about this aspect. Here is the press release:

Today, we also talked a bit about how developers will build apps for the new system. Windows 8 apps use the power of HTML5, tapping into the native capabilities of Windows using standard JavaScript and HTML to deliver new kinds of experiences. These new Windows 8 apps are full-screen and touch-optimized, and they easily integrate with the capabilities of the new Windows user interface. There’s much more to the platform, capabilities and tools than we showed today.

Program Manager Jensen Harris says in the preview video:

We introduced a new platform based on standard web technologies

Microsoft made no mention of either Silverlight or .NET, even though Silverlight is used as the development platform in Windows Phone 7, from which Windows 8 Tiled mode draws its inspiration.

The fear of .NET developers is that Microsoft’s Windows team now regards not only Silverlight but also .NET on the client as a legacy technology. Everything will still run, but to take full advantage of Tiled mode you will need to use the new HTML and JavaScript model. Here are a couple of sample comments. This:

My biggest fears coming into Windows 8 was that, as a mostly WPF+.NET developer, was that they would shift everything to Silverlight and leave the FULL platform (can you write a Visual Studio in Silverlight? of course not, not designed for that) in the dust. To my utter shock, they did something much, much, much worse.

and this:

We are not Windows developers because we love Windows. We put up with Windows so we can use C#, F# and VS2010. I’ve considered changing the platform many times. What stops me each time is the goodness that keeps coming from devdiv. LINQ, Rx, TPL, async – these are the reasons I’m still on Windows.

Underlying the discussion is that developers have clients, and clients want applications that run on a platform with a future. Currently, Microsoft is promoting HTML and JavaScript as the future for Windows applications, putting every client-side .NET developer at a disadvantage in those pitches.

What is curious is that the developer tools division at Microsoft, part of Server and Tools, has continued to support and promote .NET; and in fact Microsoft is soon to deliver Visual Studio LightSwitch, a new edition of Visual Studio that generates only Silverlight applications. Microsoft is also using Silverlight for a number of its own web user interfaces, such as for Azure, System Center and Windows InTune, as noted here.

Now, I still expect that both Silverlight and native code, possibly with some new XAML-based tool, will be supported for Windows 8 Tiled mode. But Microsoft has not said so; and may remain silent until the Build conference in September according to .NET community manager Pete Brown:

You all saw a very small technology demo of Windows 8, and a brief press release. We’re all being quiet right now because we can’t comment on this. It’s not because we don’t care, aren’t listening, have given up, or are agreeing or disagreeing with you on something. All I can say for now is to please wait until September. If we say more before then, that will be great, but there are no promises (and I’m not aware of any plans) to say more right now. I’m very sorry that there’s nothing else to share at the moment. I know that answer is terrible, but it’s all that we can say right now. Seriously.

While this is clearly not Brown’s fault, this is poor developer communication and PR from Microsoft. The fact that .NET and Silverlight champion Scott Guthrie is moving to Windows Azure is no comfort.

The developer division, and in fact the whole of Server and Tools, has long been a bright spot at Microsoft and among its most consistent performers. The .NET story overall includes some bumps, but as a platform for business applications it has been a remarkable success. The C# language has evolved rapidly and effectively under the guidance of Technical Fellow Anders Hejlsberg. It would be bewildering if Microsoft were to turn its back on .NET, even if only on the client.

In fact, it is bewildering that Microsoft is being so careless with this critical part of its platform, even if this turns out to be more to do with communication than technical factors.

From the outside, it still looks as if Microsoft’s server and tools division is pulling one way, and the Windows team the other. If that is the case, it is destructive, and something CEO Steve Ballmer should address; though I imagine that Steven Sinofsky, the man who steered Windows 7 to launch so successfully, is a hard person to oppose even for the CEO.

Update: Journalist Mary Jo Foley has posted on what she “hears from my contacts” about Jupiter:

Jupiter is a user interface library for Windows and will allow developers to build immersive applications using a XAML-based approach with coming tools from Microsoft. Jupiter will allow users a choice of programming languages, namely, C#, Visual Basic and C++.

Jupiter, presuming her sources are accurate, is the managed code platform for the new Windows shell – “Tiled mode” or “Tailored Apps” or “Modern Shell – MoSH”; though if that is the case, I am not sure whether C++ in this context will compile to managed or unmanaged code. Since Silverlight is already a way to code using XAML, it is also not clear to me whether Jupiter is in effect a new Windows-only version of Silverlight, or yet another approach.

A pivotal moment for Microsoft as it attempts to escape its Windows legacy


Last year I wrote a piece for The Register on 25 years of Windows. I even ran up Windows 1.0 in a DOS box to have a look.

The surprising thing about Windows is not how much has changed in 25 years, but how little. The WIMP model (Windows, Icons, Menus, Pointer) has stayed the same. Inevitably, Windows was completely rebuilt during that period, in the form of Windows NT, but Microsoft was careful to make the user interface reassuringly familiar. Windows NT 3.1 looked the same as Windows 3.1, but did not crash so often. Windows NT 4.0 used the Windows 95 user interface. Further, as far as possible old applications still ran. In fact, Notepad on Windows 1.0 looks very like Notepad on Windows 7.

Then Apple releases the iPhone in 2007, and suddenly Microsoft has a problem. Apple demonstrates that it is possible to create a touch user interface, without a stylus, that really works. Apple does this by creating a new operating system, iOS, which is incompatible with its existing OS X used for desktops and laptops. Yes, much of the underlying code is the same, but OS X applications do not run. Nobody would expect them to on a phone; but then Apple does the iPad, approaching the screen size of a laptop, but still iOS, touch-centric, and incompatible with Mac OS X.

The advantage of Apple’s clean-room approach is that there are no compromises or fudges to make applications built for keyboard and mouse somehow work. iPhone and iPad are huge hits, and users seemingly do not mind sticking with OS X for their productivity applications like Microsoft Office and Adobe PhotoShop, and using the iPad and iPhone for web browsing and for apps that are more about consuming than creating – except that productivity apps like the iWork suite are now creeping onto iOS, and this together with the web application/cloud computing model may mean that OS X gets used less and iOS more over time; but OS X is not going away.

What about Microsoft? It has a big hit with Windows 7, but suddenly it all feels rather legacy. What about the new computing model which is mobile, touch-centric, and enjoyable to use in a way previously unknown in computing? One thing is sure: Microsoft cannot continue with WIMP. It has to break with 25 years of Windows and find a different user interface model.

2010, and Microsoft does Windows Phone 7. This is Microsoft’s iOS: same old Windows underneath, though based on the cut-down Windows CE, but otherwise a complete break from the past. The user interface is a new touch-centric effort called Metro and based on sliding tiles. The main thread of continuity for developers is its app platform based on Silverlight, which runs .NET code written in C# and Visual Basic.

You might have thought that Microsoft would follow Apple by using the phone OS for other form factors as well, and making Silverlight its core app platform for Windows (the cross-platform dream is long gone).

Instead, Microsoft embarked on a third strategy.

“We introduced a new platform based on standard web technologies”, says program manager Jensen Harris in his preview video. Windows 8 uses elements from the Windows Phone 7 UI, but driven by HTML and JavaScript rather than by Silverlight. Well, maybe you can use Silverlight instead; or maybe native code. Not everything is clear yet; but what Microsoft is choosing to focus on is its use of web technology.

Who will buy touch-centric Windows 8 devices? Microsoft’s problem: there is already a touch-centric OS out in the market, supported by countless third-party apps. As it has discovered with Windows Phone 7, it is not enough to do a decent alternative. So what, says the market, we already have iOS, and if we want something non-Apple, there’s Android. And WebOS. And Blackberry PlayBook.

The one thing Microsoft can do that others cannot is run Windows. Not new Windows, but old Windows. There is a reason why Windows 7 was the fastest-selling operating system of all time – most of the business world runs on Windows.

Therefore Windows 8 does both. There’s the new platform, and there’s the old platform, and you just swipe between them.


Windows 8 is a migration strategy. Is a mobile, touch-centric UI the future of client computing? Quite possibly, but in the meantime you have all this old stuff to run, not least Microsoft Office. Here is the answer: run both.

There are a few problems with this strategy.

First, while Microsoft will focus on the new HTML-based platform, in the real world people will buy Windows to run their existing Windows apps. That means they will need keyboard and mouse. Windows 8 OEMs will be fighting an old battle: how to make devices that run well as tablets, but also have keyboard and trackpad, and a competitive price. We have seen that approach fail with the old Tablet PC line and its swivel screens.

Alternatively, we will see touch-only devices and users will curse as they try to run Excel.

Second problem: Microsoft’s Windows team is focused on the new UI. The old one will likely be pretty much Windows 7. The success of Windows 7 was driven by innovations and improvements that matter whatever you run, rather than ones that you can only use if you are running apps built for the new platform.

A split personality means divided attention, and one or other or both will suffer. Is Windows 7 now frozen in time as the last of its line? That does look possible.

Third, what is the developer story? Hitherto, the Windows developer story has been pretty simple and single-minded. There is native code and the Windows API, or for the last decade or so there has been .NET. All-conquering C# has been the unifying language from desktop to server, with Silverlight bringing it to the browser.

Now Microsoft is saying HTML and JavaScript. Plaudits from the standards folk – who mostly do not run Windows and still will not – but confusion for the Microsoft-platform community.

That said, I will be surprised if Silverlight is not also an option for new-style apps, enabling Windows Phone apps to be ported easily.

Even so, there must be a reason for Microsoft’s emphasis on HTML and JavaScript for local apps as well as web applications. It does feel as if the one common thread to the company’s developer story has suddenly been cut, and for no good reason given that Silverlight fits perfectly with the new UI model.

Let me add, it is hard to see a future for the Windows Phone 7 OS, given what we have seen in Windows 8. It seems plausible that Windows Phone 8+ will use the same code as Windows 8, which is another reason to suppose that Silverlight will be fully supported.

I can see where Microsoft wants to get to. It wants to succeed in mobile and in the new touch-centric world, as the alternative is gradual erosion of its entire market and Windows ecosystem. Is this the best way, and will it work? Open questions; and the company has some tricky positioning to do, especially to its developers. The forthcoming Build conference will be critical.

Chromebook: web applications put to the test, and by the way no Java

Yesterday Google announced the availability of the first commercial Chromebook, a Linux computer running the Chrome browser and not much else. There are machines from Acer and Samsung which are traditional laptop/netbook clamshell designs, with an Intel Atom dual core processor, 16GB solid state storage, and a 12.1” screen. Price will be a bit less than $400, or organisations can subscribe from $28 or €21 per month in which case they get full support and hardware replacement. There are wi-fi and 3G options. Nobody is going to be excited about the hardware.


The Chromebook may be the most secure computer available, if Google has got it right. The OS is inaccessible to the user and protected from the browser, and system patching is automatic.

The strength and weakness of the Chromebook is that is only runs web applications – the only exception being utilities that Google itself supplies. Are we ready for a computer that is little use offline? I am not sure; but this will be an interesting experiment.

The Chromebook is a compelling alternative to a traditional PC with its susceptibility to malware and dependence on locally installed applications and data. If you lose your PC, getting a new one up and running can be a considerable hassle, though large businesses have almost cracked the problem with system images and standard builds. Lose a Chromebook, and you just get another one and sign in.

You sign into Google of course, and that is a worry if you would rather not be dependent on a single corporation for your digital identity and a large chunk of your data.

The problem for the Chromebook is that Apple’s iPad and numerous Google Android tablets and netbooks offer security that is nearly as good, and local applications as well as web applications, for a not dissimilar cost. These devices are also easy to restore if they break or go missing, slightly less so than a Chromebook but not much.

The choice looks a bit like this:

  1. Chromebook: Web applications only
  2. iPad/Android: Web applications and local apps

Put like that, it is difficult to see the advantage of the Chromebook. The subscription scheme is interesting though; it is a new business computing model that brings the cloud computing principle of operating expenditure instead of capital expenditure to the desktop.

The offline issue may be the worst thing about a Chromebook. When I travel, I frequently find myself without a good internet connection. The word “offline” does not feature in either the consumer or business frequently asked questions – a question Google would rather you did not ask?

Yet there is 16GB storage on board. That is a lot. In theory, HTML 5 local storage should solve the offline problem, but few web apps, including Google’s own, make this seamless yet.

A few other observations. While there are no user-installable client apps, Google is adding some utilities.

VPN is coming:

We’ve heard from our pilot customers that VPN is an important feature for businesses and schools, and we’re working very hard to bake this into Chromebooks soon. Support for some VPN implementation is already in the product and we’ll both extend support for more VPNs and get these features to stable soon.

Remote desktop access is coming:

we are developing a free service called Chromoting that will enable Chrome notebook users to remotely access their existing PCs and Macs.

Apparently this is based on Citrix Receiver.

There is a bias towards Adobe Flash:

Chromebooks have Flash support built-in, but they do not support Java or Silverlight.

Another blow for Java on the client.

Microsoft promises Silverlight 5 beta soon, more love for HTML 5 in uncertain blog post

Microsoft has promised to deliver a Silverlight 5 beta at the Mix conference next week. The team posting is by Walid Abu-Hadba (Corporate VP of Developer and Platform Evangelism), Soma Somasegar (Senior VP or Developer Division) and Scott Guthrie (Corporate VP of .NET Developer Platform) and seems intended to clarify the company’s much-debated strategy concerning Silverlight vs HTML 5:

we have received questions from the community about the future of plug-ins, and how Silverlight is viewed as part of an overall solution set. We’ll provide clarity, background and context below

Despite the high-powered authorship though, the post tells us little. I mean, can you get vaguer than this?

HTML5 is a solution for many scenarios, and developers should make the appropriate choice based on application needs, knowing that we have a heritage and a future vision of supporting a wide variety of technologies to meet those needs.

This sentence is considered so perfectly nuanced that it is repeated at the end of the post.

If you enjoy reading between lines, there is a phrase to ponder here:

Over the coming months we’ll be particularly demonstrative of our emphasis on HTML 5, in Internet Explorer and in tools.

I’m hearing noises about Visual Studio 2012 now, and I imagine we will see some HTML 5 tooling there. I would expect it to include support for rich ASP.NET clients talking to WCF RIA Services or maybe  WCF Web APIs as well as things like the ASP.NET Membership Framework; and I would expect JQuery and ASP.NET Ajax to figure strongly.

I do not think Silverlight is dead though; apart from its role in Windows Phone, we are hearing rumours about the AppX application model in Windows 8 which looks a lot like Silverlight; and I have already noted the extensive use of Silverlight in Microsoft’s own products. I would rather hear the developer division VPs discuss this aspect of Silverlight, rather than reiterate corporate angst over how it relates to HTML 5. I would also like to see a post signed by the Windows team as well as by developer division.

Windows Phone 8 will run Windows 8, with Silverlight centre stage?

More information on Windows 8 is leaking out now; and it gives some clues about how Microsoft intends to make sense of its two device platforms, Windows tablets and Windows Phone.

Microsoft held back from making its Windows Phone 7 OS available on tablets, which is why most of the numerous tablets being pushed out to compete with Apple run Google Android, and a few of them Windows 7 with its excessive power requirements and a user interface poorly designed for touch control.

Now the strong rumour is that Windows 8 supports two user interfaces, one that is tile-based like Windows Phone 7, and another that is designed for PCs.

In other words, rather than continuing with the Windows Phone 7 OS which is built on Windows CE, Microsoft will build a new version of the Windows Phone 7 UI on top of full Windows.

My further assumption is that Silverlight apps will still run on the new OS, providing continuity with Windows Phone 7 which uses Silverlight or XNA, both based on .NET, for its application platform.

Silverlight might also be used as the platform for apps delivered by the new Windows app store. This is Paul Thurrott, though reported as rumour:

Windows 8 will also include a new app model codenamed Jupiter that will target a new Windows Marketplace app store. The app store will provide access to new, Silverlight based "immersive" applications that are deployed as AppX packages (.appx). The Windows and Office teams are betting very heavily on this new app type, according to my source, and development has already begun using a beta version of Visual Studio 2012. These apps can be written in C#, Visual Basic, and even C++.

We do know that Silverlight 5 supports full platform invoke of native code, a feature which tends to support the idea that it is becoming a key runtime for Windows.

Let me speculate a little further. Imagine you are Adobe, for example, which has said it will deliver the Flash runtime for Windows Phone. Although it competes with Silverlight to some extent, Microsoft needs to tick the Flash box for Windows Phone. But why would Adobe want to invest in Flash for Windows CE, when this OS is not going to be used for Windows Phone 8 and it will have to write new code? I will not be surprised if we hear that Flash is now not coming until Windows Phone 8.

Even within Microsoft itself, I would guess that investment is focused on the next generation rather than the one that is destined to be short-lived.

One partner that is no doubt close to Microsoft’s plans is Nokia. If the above is correct, then Nokia is buying into the Windows OS, not the Windows Phone OS. Will Nokia wait for Windows Phone 8 before launching devices on the platform? I have no idea – and delay will be costly – but I imagine its main plans will be focused on Windows Phone 8 and the possibility of tablet as well as smartphone devices.

The immediate conclusions would be:

  • Silverlight is safe as a development platform, but only for Windows. See also Silverlight the new Windows runtime, HTML 5 the new Silverlight?
  • The Windows Phone 7 OS will be short-lived but the new UI should be a natural progression from what we have now, and apps should still run, so Microsoft can position Windows Phone 8 to users as a new version of Windows Phone rather than a change of direction.
  • Microsoft will not have a coherent mobile and tablet platform until Windows 8 ships sometime in 2012. Google, Apple, RIM, HP, all have plenty of time to establish their competing platforms.