Oct 11 2011

What Does Windows 8 Mean for Windows Phone Developers?

Category: Desktop and Server | MobileJoel Ivory Johnson @ 01:24

It was only a few weeks ago that Windows 8 was unveiled at the Build conference. At first glance it looks a lot like Windows Phone with heavy use of the Metro visual language. The only part of the system that hasn't had the Metro touch is the desktop (unlike previous versions of Windows the Desktop is not something that is always running). The Start menu looks like the Windows Phone start screen only it scrolls horizontally instead of vertically. The only mention of Silverlight is that you could still use it in Desktop mode for backwards compatibility, but the Metro [default] instance of IE would run no plug-ins, including Silverlight. The programming model also is not based off of Silverlight or the Desktop .Net runtime. Its based on something new called WinRT (Windows Runtime). 

At first glance this is something that has concerned Silverlight and Windows Phone developers. At first glance some one might come to the conclusion that the skill in which he or she has invested has become second class in Windows 8. Is Silverlight really getting killed off? What's going to happen for the Silverlight based Windows Phone?

I don't know the future any more than the next person, but what I saw at Build isn't something that raised concern. I found it to be rather reassuring. Before I explain why let me grant the elephant in the room, the rumor that Silverlight is going to be dead. I don't believe this rumour. For years people have predicted that certain Microsoft Technologies were dead (DirectX, .Net, and many other technologies that we still use today). But I'll grant it anyway so that we can explore what seems to be a popular concern. 

Let's assume that next year Microsoft announces that it is going to sunset Silverlight and toss out the Windows Phone programming model in favour of the Windows 8 programming model. What does this mean for the skills that you have developed? Are they now useless? You've been developing skills in C#/VB, XAML, asynchronous programming, and some APIs that were specific to Silverlight and Windows Phone. Let's look at how each one of these will contribute to your Windows 8 development. 

Languages: C# and VB

C# and VB are still being used on Windows 8. If you've been using these languages you can continue to use them. Additionally if you know C++ or have algorithms that had been written in C++ you'll be able to port them over to Windows 8. Windows 8 also supports JavaScript as a programming language too. 


XAML is still used on Windows 8 for building your UI. Many of the elements you've become familiar with are present in addition to some new ones. No huge changes there. 

Asynchronous Programming

One of the challenges for developers that were new to Silverlight was that task that one may have been used to doing synchronously are only available as asynchronous calls. On Windows 8 you'll find that many of the tasks that were asynchronous in Silverlight and Windows Phone are still asynchronous. Additionally other APIs have been made asynchronous, including File IO. 

The Familiar and What This All Means

You'll come across APIs that look similar of not identical to what you've seen in Windows Phone and Silverlight. Windows 8 has the concept of an application getting tombstoned, specifying the permissions it needs, and so on. Windows 8 Metro applications will only be distributed through the Marketplace. Doesn't all of this sound familiar. If you are a Windows Phone developer it should. You've already got a head start on Windows 8 development. This is far from the doom and gloom picture that some stories would have some one believe. 

If you want to dive into Windows 8 programming the 64-bit development images are available for download. I suggest running them on real hardware. I tried them in the emulator VirtualBox and it's just not the same experience there. 

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