It has been about a half-year since Microsoft hosted the Build 2011 conference, and I thought it was a good time to see how what was introduced there may have changed the direction of development in the Microsoft developer community. Specifically, the question is how Metro on Windows 8 is influencing things and whether or not it will blaze a path with wide and rapid adoption. This is a difficult question to answer without the benefit of hindsight in any case, but impossible without assessing the landscape that Windows 8 Metro-style applications will be fitting into (and in some areas competing against).
Success for Metro-style Windows 8 applications will hinge largely on developer attitudes. If there are enough compelling applications, this will enhance the desirability of the platform for end users. There is a chicken-and-egg relationship here that depends to a large extent on the opinions of developers in the months before and after the launch of Windows 8.
Scott Golightly, a Microsoft regional director and well-known speaker in the Microsoft developer community, noted that “If there is slow uptake on Windows 8, it could deter developers from creating applications for a platform where the potential customer base is smaller than other competing platforms. I am seeing a lot of individual developers that are excited about the possibility of creating new applications, but in general, IT departments and larger groups I have talked to feel that they already have enough work to do that they will not be adopting Windows 8 the day it ships.”
To echo the latter part of those sentiments, most developers I talk to have been inundated with wave after wave of new options in the ways they go about trying to accomplish their tasks. These repeated sea changes have bred a more cautious, even cynical community, even among those that have historically played the role of fanboys for Microsoft and others. I still regularly hear conversations on the value of migrating away from relatively ancient technologies such as Visual Basic 6.0 in favor of .NET, which reminds us that everyone does not automatically adopt the new thing just because it shows up.
When I see a new technology, my first reaction is cautious optimism. This attitude has kept me working with new technologies on a fairly continuous basis, but true success comes not from winning the early adopters. True success comes from the early adopters convincing the masses that the technology in question is the solution to a problem worthy of the effort to upgrade skills, upgrade code and risk careers. This is a multi-faceted problem that needs to be looked at from a variety of angles. For that reason, I have recruited a cast of thought leaders, including Golightly, to offer their opinions on the topic, lest my opinion weigh too heavily on the analysis here.
In spite of the inevitable conjecture surrounding any new release of Windows as to whether the masses might pass on it, the consensus seems to be that, as is typical, Windows 8 will enjoy widespread adoption over time. That last part is critical to the perception of success for Windows 8 and Metro by extension. (Windows Vista is not generally viewed as a success, but it still sold millions of copies.)
In talking to Richard Campbell, principal at Campbell & Associates and cohost of the weekly Internet talk show “.NET Rocks!”, he prefaced by reminding me that, like me, his focus with the technology is on server-centric enterprise applications. From that perspective, he said, “My customers are just migrating to Windows 7 now, they won’t be on Windows 8 in general for a while yet. I am currently in discussions with a few enterprise customers about piloting tablets in the enterprise, and Windows 8 is at the top of their list.”
That’s a bit of a mixed message for Metro adoption. It is a positive sign that Metro on Windows 8 is factoring into plans even for organizations that are still bringing Windows 7 online. This indicates it has captured attention. On the flip side, these are likely long-term plans and are unlikely to bolster the first year of Windows 8 sales or the numbers of Metro apps available. Perhaps the enterprise is the wrong place to look for help in this endeavor, but there has been no lack of attention for the iPad in the enterprises I deal with regularly. Microsoft has to fight Apple on all fronts in this coming tablet war. Metro is the weapon that will decide things.