In-Depth

Microsoft's Changing Developer Tool Focus

Besides bringing more programmers into the fold, the key to Windows success will be support for additional languages in Visual Studio.

While Microsoft needs to bring more Windows developers into the fold, those that are all in will focus on bringing compelling apps to the new "modern" platform. Microsoft has been pushing its developer army toward Windows 8 and Windows Phone with gusto.

Until recently, however, paltry Windows Phone sales numbers have kept the majority of developers from building apps. Instead, they've used (and are still using) cross-platform tools within Microsoft's Visual Studio integrated development environment to build for the competing mobile platforms iOS and Android.

That may change this year with recent news of upticks in Windows Phone market share, and solid reviews for Windows 8.1. If it looks to be a viable market, those developers will start creating for Windows Phone. Building the app ecosystem is crucial to the success of Windows Phone and Windows 8.

Support for Windows Phone may continue to increase, perhaps to as high as 7 or 8 percent next year. That would double its current market share. Some will come at the expense of BlackBerry, some at the expense of iOS, which still suffers from much higher prices than the competition.

Developer tooling is undergoing a similar transformation. Toward the end of 2013, Microsoft pushed out new versions of Visual Studio and the .NET Framework. The direction surrounding those key products is clear -- they're heading to the cloud. Visual Studio Online, a brand-new offering, provides strong integration with Windows Azure. This helps developers do all their work in the cloud. Part of Visual Studio Online was released as "Monaco," an entirely browser-based environment that supports Windows development in any browser and from any device.

Microsoft has also gone to great lengths to foster development through platform-neutral technologies. For example, JavaScript has become a first-class language in Visual Studio 2013. That means developers can use most of the standard programming tools, such as IntelliSense, code snippets and so on. Those are the same tools they would have used all along with a Microsoft-specific language like C# or Visual Basic.

In fact, Microsoft has gone beyond that to create a superset of JavaScript called TypeScript. This helps developers build larger, more complex programs than are possible with standard JavaScript.

Another trend that bears watching is Microsoft's continued push into "Big Data." At the core of this effort is Microsoft's partnership with Hortonworks. That collaboration led to the recent release of HDInsight, a Hadoop-based service from Microsoft that brings a 100 percent Apache Hadoop solution to Windows Azure. One advantage of HDInsight is that it allows for development in .NET, making it a no-brainer option for that community.

Quentin Clark, corporate vice president, Microsoft Data Platform, thinks Big Data is the future. "We believe Hadoop is the cornerstone of a sea change coming to all businesses in terms of how they're able to embrace information to effect change for how they run their day-to-day business," he said at a recent conference.

Clark may be right, but there are just as many challenges and opportunities for Microsoft in the areas of mobile computing and Web development. Redmond appears ready for the battles ahead. Execution will be the key to its success or failure.

About the Author

Keith Ward is the editor in chief of Visual Studio Magazine.

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