Windows 8 HTML5/JS Comment Causes Panic Among Developers

There’s a fullblown panic going on in Microsoft’s core third party developer community. After the big Windows 8 demonstration earlier this month where HTML5 and JavaScript were touted as a new way to create applications for Windows 8, speculation has gone through the roof – with developers panicking in the streets about the end of Silverlight and .NET and a HTML5/JS-only Windows 8 release. Looking more closely at the whole situation, though, it would seem that what we’re dealing with here is a miscommunication – one that Microsoft desperately needs to address since the web is blowing it way out of proportion. The tl;dr: no, HTML5 and JS are not going to be the only ways to write applications for Windows 8.

This is a subject I’ve been meaning to write about for a while now, but due to me not being, you know, a developer, I have to rely on the expertise of others to be able to inform you, and of course, in order to form my own opinion on the matter. From what I’ve read so far, it would seem that what we’re dealing with here is a miscommunication.

Let’s first go back to the presentation of Windows 8’s interface. Since it’s already been a while since this presentation took place, my memory was a little bit muddied, and judging by all the talk about HTML5/JS that has come since, I thought half of the presentation was about HTML5 and JS being the one and only development tools for Windows 8. Going back to the presentation, however, I was surprised to find that the comment about HTML5 and JS was made only once, and better yet, only when it came to the demo weather application.

As Julie Larson-Green was running through the new Mango-inspired Windows 8 interface, she loaded the weather application with current weather conditions and forecasts, she made her now infamous comment. “This is written with our new development platform, which is based on HTML5 and JavaScript […] And so people can write new applications for Windows using the things that they, that they – are doing already on the internet,” she said.

It may be hard to believe, but that’s it. This is all that was said about HTML5 and JavaScript during the presentation. Larson-Green loaded a demo weather application, and stated this application was built using a new development platform that uses HTML5 and JS. Nothing more, nothing less.

She didn’t say this would be the only development platform. She didn’t say this was the preferred platform. All she said was – this specific application is built using a new development platform we’re working on. Considering this is a demo about new stuff, it makes sense to mention that for Windows 8, developers can now also use HTML5 and JS to write applications.

The comment was entirely ignored by Walt Mossberg and Kara Swischer, and Larson-Green, too, didn’t seem to think too much of it. The same thing was said in an article on Microsoft’s press website – one aspect of Windows 8 is “web-connected and web-powered apps built using HTML5 and JavaScript that have access to the full power of the PC”.

If you think going from this to “zomg windows 8 will be 100% html5 and js only!11!” seems like somewhat of a stretch, you’re not alone. Comments from Microsoft employees since then would seem to indicate that, by golly, of course Windows 8 isn’t going to be HTML5/JS-only just because Microsoft is adding HTML5/JS as a way to write applications. It’s just that they’re not allowed to talk about it until the BUILD conference in September.

“Nowhere in there is a Microsoft person saying that HTML/Javascript are the exclusive way to write applications. It’s a new way, it’s an exciting way, and, let’s face it, a way that is likely to be hugely popular with web developers,” writes, Microsoft community program manager Pete Brown, “None of us at Microsoft can say anything until //build/ in September. No one likes that, including me. That’s all we can do, however.”

This seems like a pretty solid confirmation from Redmond that you’ll be able to use more than just HTML5 and JS to write applications for Windows 8. It wouldn’t make sense, either; Microsoft wants to unify their three screens, and do you really think they would invest so heavily in Silverlight and XNA on Windows Phone 7 and the Xbox 360, only to toss them out the window for Windows 8?

On top of that, if you’d been paying attention over the past few months, you would know that Windows 8 will include something called ‘Jupiter’. We reported on Jupiter earlier this year, and because of the whole HTML5/JS thing, Mary Jo Foley talked to her sources inside Microsoft, and they confirmed that Jupiter is still on track (and if her sources aren’t enough, evidence of Jupiter’s existence has already been uncovered in the leaked windows 8 builds).

“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++,” Foley writes, “Yes, it still exists, I hear from my contacts. And yes, this will enable support of native Silverlight applications.”

Jupiter applications will be part of the new fancy interface, and not the classic interface option Microsoft also showed off. In spite of this, however, Foley believes that Microsoft will eventually phase out Silverlight – just not any time soon. “It definitely seems Microsoft’s ultimate goal is to wean developers off Silverlight and to convince them to use HTML5 and JavaScript to write new apps for Windows, going forward,” she writes, “But until there’s better tooling for HTML5 (beyond what Microsoft provides via the F12 HTML tools in Internet Explorer), it seems the Softies are going to support .Net and Silverlight via new versions of Visual Studio, the .Net Framework and Expression.”

Another Microsoft blogger, Paul Thurrot, is also convinced that Microsoft is still pushing Jupiter ahead, but just like Foley, he acknowledges that Microsoft is undergoing a rather large communications kucf-up. He hints that Microsoft might be planning on some big reveal for its BUILD conference in September (Jupiter and the Windows application store), but that this many months with developers panicking in the street committing 切腹 is not a good thing. A short blog post addressing the issue with sparse details and a ‘yes, you can still use .NET/Silverlight/XNA/whatever, stay tuned for more at BUILD’ is all that’s needed to take most of the worries away.

I honestly don’t think Microsoft foresaw this kind of a reaction from a mere mention of HTML5 and JS, but at least they could acknowledge the unrest now and quell it right away. Instead, the company remains incredibly tight-lipped – and while that Sinofsky policy worked out great for Windows 7, I would call this an exception to the rule.

As a final note in my capacity as ordinary user, I must say that I honestly do not understand all of the complaints from the developer community. Take Windows Presentation Foundation for instance – developers lament the impeding demise of the technology, while I’ve yet to see, you know, actually useful applications written in WPF that aren’t eating up half my RAM while idling. If WPF is so great it’s worth knicker-twisting over, then show us ignorants why we should care!

It would appear to me that Microsoft has always had a somewhat disjointed and confusing strategy when it comes to its developer tools, and if the company is currently trying to address this, then that gets a big thumbs up from me. Toes will inevitably be stepped on during this process, but if it leads to a unification of the three screens in my home (Xbox 360, Windows Phone 7, and my desktop), then I’m all for it.

Just look at where Microsoft is going. Visually, the unification is already complete.


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