Microsoft dominated technology news last week with its announcement of the Surface: a Microsoft-branded tablet with a nifty keyboard designed to showcase what its latest OS, Windows 8, can do. But the hubbub over the Surface overshadowed perhaps an even more significant Microsoft announcement – that of Windows Phone 8, the next version of Microsoft’s stake in the mobile computing market. While there are only a few cosmetic changes, Windows Phone 8 isn’t a mere upgrade over its predecessor – it’s a complete rethink of Microsoft’s mobile strategy and represents a great leap forward into what it hopes is the future of application development.
That may seem like an awful lot of seemingly hyperbolic rhetoric, but last week Redmond announced that Windows Phone 8 and all future versions would be based on Windows NT (replacing Windows CE) and feature a shared codebase with Windows 8. This codebase runs deep and includes C/C++ libraries, DirectX support, and more. The idea is that with minimal adjustments, Metro apps from Windows 8 can be ported to Windows Phone 8, creating one relatively seamless Windows platform for everything from mobile phones to desktop computers.
Microsoft was finally getting competitive with a completely different, even more aggressive approach to tablet/mobile computing – Windows 8 – but it wasn’t until the Windows Phone 8 announcement that their full vision became clear. They
are betting heavily on Metro apps – applications written in C/C++, Silverlight, or HTML5 designed to be run full-screen in the Metro portion of Windows, as opposed to apps written natively for desktop Windows
– being the future of application development for Windows with the promise of platform-wide compatibility.
However, that compatibility came at a price. Existing Windows Phones – such as the heavily-hyped Nokia Lumia 900 – are entirely incompatible with Windows Phone 8, much as Windows Mobile phones were incompatible with the original Windows Phone 7. The question is, then, what would make Microsoft so willing to entirely break compatibility with their existing market share a second time?
The answer lies in the shared codebase. Microsoft knows Windows 8 will be relatively successful on the traditional laptop/desktop front – 200 million Windows 7 licenses were sold in the past year alone. However, entering the tablet space is always a big gamble, as everybody who’s tried to unseat Apple’s iPad as a top seller, save for Amazon, has failed, so Microsoft’s answer was Metro. While there are versions of Windows for Intel desktops/laptops, Intel tablets, and ARM tablets, apps for Metro will work across all platforms, and it’s expected that it’s the future of development for Windows. By sharing that Metro codebase with Windows Phone 8, Microsoft is finally using its clout in the desktop computing arena to boost its mobile platforms – suddenly Windows Phone seems less like a separate mobile product and more like an integrated part of Microsoft’s computing vision. Write an app once and release it on any form factor – an appealing concept, to be sure
Where does that leave you? Currently existing applications for Windows (or Android or iOS, for that matter) aren’t compatible with Metro and will need to be rewritten – otherwise a significant portion of Windows 8 won’t be able to run them. So maybe its time to start thinking about rewriting your app for Windows 8, and put your content on phones, tablets, and desktops all at once !