5 Key Themes from Microsoft on the Future of Windows and WinRT from the //BUILD Keynote

Build Windows 8

This week I’m attending //BUILD conference in Redmond, WA on Microsoft’s main campus alongside thousands of other .NET / Windows developers. The keynote ended about an hour ago and I wanted to publish my thoughts on some of the important takeaways from Ballmer’s talk.

Microsoft’s Points of Emphasis

1. “Microsoft can only win by training consumers to expect consistent behavior, availability, and synchronized data across all of their different devices”

WinRT isn’t just about tablets – it’s also about fundamentally changing the way desktop software is consumed and unifying mobile / desktop / tablet and probably console apps all under one consolidated platform.

The unification of these platforms is the future of Microsoft; training consumers to expect consistent behavior and access to data across all of their devices is the only way Microsoft will be able to dethrone Apple and Google in mobile / tablet and protect themselves in desktop / console in the long-run.

Ultimately, Microsoft is really the only company that can execute well on native software, services, and devices. They are playing to their strengths (ecosystem and platform) and are doing it well here.

2. “The fate of WinRT is in the hands of developers big and small.”

Microsoft desperately needs developers to make WinRT a success.

Microsoft, for the first time since Win32 emerged as the victor in the desktop wars of old, is in a position where it needs developers more than they need Microsoft.

The unified vision behind WinRT will not work without the buy-in of developers both big and small, from Facebook to the individual hobbyist developer.

Microsoft will do the hard work of putting devices in the hands of consumers that bring WinRT applications to the forefront (which I suspect is the real reason why the ARM-only Surface shipped so far ahead of the Intel one.) But it is totally reliant on developers to put the content in-store that consumers actually want to use.

3. “Microsoft and Nokia will work themselves to death to win the support of developers.”

Compounding key takeaway #2, Microsoft and Nokia both made commitments to put hardware (Nokia phones, Surfaces for us //BUILD attendees) into the hands of developers who build apps.

Having worked at Microsoft Developer Platform Evangelism throughout the entire WP7 push, I can tell you that this is no joke – Microsoft will find a way to arm its developers with hardware now that it’s all generally available.

But they’re not stopping there – Microsoft is going to continue to push training events, hackathons, webcasts, and everything it can possibly do to train developers and make it easier than ever to learn a new platform and actually ship an app on it.

I think this is tremendously positive and every developer who’s interested in the platform will have multiple opportunities to learn it on Microsoft’s dime.

4. “Don’t ship apps that don’t leverage the platform.”

Reading between the lines in some of the keynote speeches and the first couple of sessions I poked my nose in, you can interpret the following from Microsoft:

Developers who carbon copy their work byte-by-byte from previous platforms, including web apps, are doing themselves a disservice and will have their lunch eaten by developers who take advantage of charms, live tiles, and all of the other unique built-in features to Windows 8. Please take advantage of the platform if you’re going to build an app for it!

This echoes the same general theme I wrote about in an earlier post decrying Windows 8 developers shooting themselves in the foot with respect to Windows Store economics: Windows 8 is different so treat it differently than iOS / Android / Web.

Speaking more broadly, most consumers have never interacted with Metro much, aside from perhaps the Xbox launch screen.

If Metro and WinRT are going to take off with consumers then it will be due to the highly differentiated hardware and software capabilities of the platform, not price point or any other factors.

If developers don’t take advantage of those differentiated OS capabilities, then it limits the overall differentiation of Windows 8 from everything else in market, including prior versions of Windows.

5. “Windows Phone 8 is just as important to the success of Microsoft as Windows 8.”

Extending theme #1 a little bit further… Windows Phone 8 was heavily, heavily emphasized over Windows 8 itself during Ballmer’s talk… We’d heard hardly a peep about it prior to it’s official launch yesterday.

Here’s why: the success of Microsoft’s entire consumer software ecosystem rides on consumers adopting the Metro UI and getting used to the rest of Microsoft’s services ecosystem, which includes your apps in the Windows Store.

Windows 8 will move hundreds of millions of units regardless, due to the inertia of Microsoft’s desktop / laptop business alone. The rise of Microsoft Surface devices we’ve seen on our Windows 8 launch tracker also makes the future for WinRT tablets look a lot more promising than it was a week ago.

However, without a significant presence in mobile, Microsoft and Windows will always have the threat of a unified iOS / OS X ecosystem there to sweep the desktop market out from underneath it. Windows Phone 8 is not a side show – it’s part of the core front Microsoft is forming against Apple on consumer computing.

Parting Thoughts

This is a really exciting time to be a Windows developer. The opportunities for developers to build sustainable businesses around Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 apps are huge and there for the taking.

On top of that, the ecosystem has never been more accessible – you can build native apps for Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 with C# or C++, and I suspect we’ll eventually see WinJS apps make their way onto Windows Phone 8 too.

That’s why our team at MarkedUp is excited to be doing what we’re doing :)