Who’s getting aboard the Metro?
February 24, 2012 —
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Related Search Term(s): Metro, Microsoft, Windows 8
Native or not
At the end of my discussions with the various people I talked to about where Metro on Windows 8 stands currently, I asked what is to be gained by ignoring Metro. The word “native” kept coming up. Metro-style apps are native apps on Windows 8, thanks to WinRT. Usually native means closer to the metal with fewer limitations, but that is not completely true with Metro since there are innate limits imposed—by design, in fact—on what a program can do when it leverages WinRT.
Campbell said, “There is always a place for native applications: Generic applications play to the lowest common denominator, and Windows 8 has such unique strengths that it would be foolish not to take advantage of the native platform. Besides, the native platform for Windows 8 represents three distinct development approaches, namely .NET, C++ and HTML5.”
When presented with the same query, Golightly commented, “If you have a program or utility that has a use case where the user would typically open that application and stay in it until they have completed the task, then certainly that could be written as a Metro-style application.”
Many of my own clients are wrestling with the Metro development question now. Bruce Backa, president and cofounder of NTP Software, which makes storage management and security products that mostly work on the server-side, described several places where his company intends to provide Metro-style interfaces to the back-end data their products collect and produce, but they are all long-term plans. There is no drive or need in his view to deliver these interfaces at or shortly after the launch, given that most of NTP Software’s clients are large enterprises.
This seems to be a consistent story that confirms that Metro’s success will mostly be decided by the consumer space. Hollis told me that his company is working with two clients on Windows 8/WinRT apps, both for mobile scenarios. He added, “Besides getting long shelf life by doing an application on a new platform instead of platforms with uncertain futures, we hope that the form factors of the Windows 8 devices will suit our needs better than what’s available today. We need high portability and long battery life, and we’re hoping some of the ARM devices will fit our needs.”
The one person who has been most excited about the invigoration of C++ after years of it playing second fiddle to C#, and to a lesser extent VB.NET, is Kate Gregory, partner at Gregory Consulting. She reported that her company is porting its Windows Phone app to Metro currently. I asked if it was converting it to C++, and she said not at first, but there will be evaluations to see what performance might be gained by basing the Windows 8 version on C++ now that the language is a first-class player on the new framework.
The challenge ahead for Microsoft has thus far seemed daunting, but tooling is a real strength for Microsoft products, and all signs point to that remaining the case for Metro on Windows 8. No doubt the usual third-party control vendors are ramping up to leverage the new platform. Telerik, for example, confirmed that it is busy preparing offerings for Windows 8 Metro-style development.
Microsoft has spent the time to revisit all the controls it provides standard to ensure they work well with the touch interface while still preserving mouse and keyboard functionality. It has also introduced totally new Metro-supporting controls like the Semantic Zoom and the App Bar. The App Bar is the control that provides the bottom swipe functionality to show your application’s secondary commands, which are available readily, but not always displayed.
This area bears watching since component vendors are liable to save their best announcements for shortly before or at the official launch. I have great confidence that the controls available will make things even easier to accomplish with Metro, provided you have the business case sorted out.
There are many pitfalls to a technology being a breakthrough success, especially in these days of abundant choices. However, Microsoft is not new to this business, and the company appears to have learned from past missteps—and more importantly, from the missteps of others.
Ultimately, I think that Metro on Windows 8 will be a major force, and is worthy of any developer’s time to understand, learn and leverage where it fits. Based on where it does fit into the solutions space, there is still plenty of room for .NET and other technologies to play roles, so for those that feared the world would pass them by, this is not likely the case. At least not yet.
The big question in my mind is what trick Microsoft will pull out to make a Metro-sized move in server development and the other places where Metro does not currently seem to fit. Maybe the topic of a future article...