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Universal apps is the future of Windows development

Simon Bisson | Oct. 20, 2014
We've called them Metro apps, then when a lawsuit meant that Microsoft couldn't use the name, we called them Modern or Windows Store apps. But now they've finally got a new official name, and it looks like it's one that's going to stick. Let's give a big welcome, then, to the Universal app. They're going to be big. That's because, as Terry Myerson and Joe Belfiore made very clear at the Windows 190 unveiling, with the expansion of WinRT APIs and support for windowed WinRT apps on the desktop, Universal apps are the future of Windows development.

The shim that Paddock developed for handling the differences in settings between platforms is the only real difference between PC and phone code. Paddock notes that apart from specific runtime checks for customizations what he delivers is the "Same HTML, same JS, same CSS." The other key issue is that he has to create separate packages for each version and deliver them through two separate stores - which causes issues in delivering and managing in-app purchases.

Another developer, Ginny Caughey, is looking forward to bringing the skills she's learned building consumer Universal apps into the enterprise code she works with in her day job. She's already receiving requests for touch versions of those apps, and finding issues in adding touch support to legacy code. She notes that Windows 10 seems to be quickly gaining enterprise acceptance, even as an early technical preview, "The support staff in my office - the people who actually have to support our customers in the field and on the phone - are enthusiastic that Windows 10 is familiar enough for the task workers who use our enterprise software, requiring minimal training. All our legacy code runs just fine on even this first release of Windows 10 Tech Preview."

As Caughey notes, the Universal apps model works well for enterprise app, where business logic and user experience are kept separate. Universal app shared projects mean business logic can be encapsulated and given appropriate UIs for each device, "accessible to back office knowledge workers on desktops who need reporting and Office integration as well as accessible in simplified form to task workers on mobile touch devices for point of sale functionality."

It's not going to be an overnight change, and Caughey anticipates a gradual shift to the new model in enterprises. As she notes, it's not a new issue for enterprise developers, "I've been at this crossroads before with my enterprise code base and used COM to bridge the gap between the legacy win32 code and the newer .NET code." Even so she expects Microsoft will deliver tools in the Windows 10 time frame that help her deliver these changes to Windows 10 users, while helping her continue to support older versions of Windows.

Other developers I spoke to are optimistic, with frameworks for Universal app development being shared on sites like Github. Microsoft seems to have found a sweet spot with Universal apps that helps developers solve a perennial problem, while giving them the tools they need to support the next generation of Windows across all sizes of screen - from 4 inches to 55 inches.

Caughey's final comment sums up the developer response, "Now I can realistically target Windows 10 features confident that my enterprise customers won't balk before even trying it as they seem to have done with Windows 8." It's a response that's going to make Redmond very happy as it rolls out the next generation of Windows.


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