Microsoft’s line is that all three approaches are fine to use, with little performance difference other than that C++ avoids an interop layer. Of course if you have any arbitrary code that runs faster in C++ than in C#, then you will still see that difference in the WinRT environment.
On the WinJS side, a common misconception is that this library is only for Windows. At Build 2014 Microsoft announced that WinJS is now open source, and works on other browsers and devices:
The library has been extended to smaller and more mobile devices with the release of WinJS 2.1 for Windows Phone 8.1, which was announced today at //build. Now that WinJS is available for building apps across Microsoft platforms and devices, it is ready to extend to web apps and sites on other browsers and devices including Chrome, Firefox, iOS, and Android.
In order to sample this, I went along to try.buildwinjs.com on an iPad. All the things I tried quickly worked fine on iOS.
Another snag with this approach – leaving aside the questions of performance and so on which I have not investigated – is that you end up with the distinctive look and feel of a Windows 8 app, which is going to be surprising on these other devices.
C# also has cross-platform potential, thanks to the great work of Xamarin and not forgetting RemObjects C#. Note though that I wrote C# rather than XAML. There is no cross-platform XAML implementation other than the abandoned cross-platform Silverlight efforts, Silverlight for the Mac and Moonlight for Linux. Xamarin expects you to rewrite your UI code for each platform – which may in fact be a good thing, though more effort.
As we looked around at the state of “cross platform development” on Windows, Windows Phone, iOS and Android we started to realize that C# was an excellent choice to target all modern mobile devices. So we did just that. With the help of Visual Studio for Windows and Xamarin for iOS and Android, we started a project to build a single version of Wordament’s source code that could target all the platforms we ship on. This release on Windows 8 marks the end of that journey. All of our clients are now proudly built out of one source tree and in one language. Even our service, which runs on Windows Azure, is built in C#. This is a huge efficiency win for our team of four.
Notable also is that the forthcoming Office for WinRT, previewed at Build, is written in XAML and C++ (according to what I was told). This means XAML will get some love inside Microsoft, which is bound to be good for performance and features.
An advantage of the C# approach is simply that you get to use C#, which is well-liked by developers and with some compelling new features promised in version 6.0, many thanks to the Roslyn project – which also promises a smarter editor in Visual Studio.
What about XAML? This is harder to love. XML is out of fashion – too verbose, too many angle brackets – and the initial promise of a breakthrough in designer/developer workflow thanks to XAML and MVVM (Model – View – ViewModel, which aims to separate code from user interface design) now seems hollow. I am writing a game in XAML and C# and do not much enjoy the XAML part. One of the issues is that the editing experience is less satisfactory. If you make an error in the XAML, the design view simply blanks out with an “Invalid Markup” error. Further, the integration between the XAML and C# editors is a constant source of problems. Half the time, the C# editor seems to forget the variables declared in XAML, giving you lots of errors and no code completion until you next compile. Even when it is working, a rename refactor in the C# editor will not rename variable references that are within quotes in the XAML, for example property names that are the targets of animations.
On the plus side, XAML is amazing in what it can do when you work out how. The user interfaces it generates are rich, scalable and responsive. It is way better that the old Win32 GDI-based approach (also used in the Windows Forms .NET API), which is hard to get right for all the combinations of screen sizes and resolutions, and has odd dependencies on system font sizes and dialog units (don’t ask).
Despite the issues with XAML, C# and XAML (or C++ and XAML) is my own preference for targeting the new Windows platform, but I am interested in other perspectives on this.