Why Vista Matters to Developers

The new operating system holds all kinds of goodies for developers.

To some, Windows Vista is Microsofts most secure operating system ever. To others, its the most Mac-like. But from a developer standpoint, its the first proving ground for Microsofts new family of managed programming interfaces that have been under development for the past five years.

As far back as October 2003 at the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles, the Microsoft message about the upcoming operating system—then known as Longhorn—was that the platform would have a heavy developer focus.

Microsoft set out to "renew the developer opportunity" with the new operating system, which meant making native Win32 API improvements that developers had been asking for, as well as adding a new, managed API set that went deep with presentation, communications and other support, said Jim Allchin, former co-president of the Redmond, Wash., companys Platforms & Services Division.

That API set, which was initially known as WinFX and later became .Net Framework 3.0, consists of Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF, formerly known as Avalon), Windows Communication Foundation (WCF, formerly known as Indigo), Windows Workflow Foundation and CardSpace (formerly known as InfoCard).


With Microsoft telegraphing its developer story for Vista so early and releasing .Net Framework 3.0 for use with Windows XP, some might view the launch of Vista as anticlimactic. But to look at it that way would miss the bigger phenomenon, which is that all of these .Net Framework 3.0 technologies are included with and installed by default with Vista, rather than requiring separate downloads and installs, said Andrew Brust, chief of new technology at Twentysix New York, a business solutions provider based in New York.

/zimages/3/28571.gifJim Allchin urges developers to capitalize on the benefits of Vista. Click here to read more.

"Perhaps even more profound, if somewhat less groundbreaking, is that the .Net Framework 2.0—on which 3.0 sits—is also included, thus making Vista the first version of Windows that ships ready-to-run .Net ClickOnce Smart Client applications and any other .Net application," Brust said. "Thats big news. Since .Net apps, when shipped without the framework, can be extremely small, the release of Vista makes it possible for .Net apps to ship as casually as Visual Basic apps could years ago once the VB run-time started shipping as part of Windows."

Not only is that big news for .Net developers, its also noteworthy for developers on competing platforms, Brust said.

A major part of that enhanced developer experience delivered in Vista comes from WPF, developers said.

"Vista is all about Avalon," said Stephen Forte, chief technology officer at Corzen, in New York. "I refuse to call it whatever its marketing name is," said Forte, who, as a Microsoft regional director, has known the technology since its early days under its code name. "So building Windows applications just got easier and much more exciting," Forte said.

Several early Vista-based applications take advantage of the enhanced graphics and presentation capability afforded by WPF, including those by Electric Rain and Yahoo. And although WPF is not a Vista-only feature, it absolutely turns on Electric Rains presentation application known as StandOut.

"It is this underlying power of WPF that is enabling Electric Rain to truly innovate," said Mike Soucie, CEO of Electric Rain, in Boulder, Colo. "We no longer have to compromise our designers GUI vision and innovative features like Flypaper, which means that Electric Rain can now deliver unparalleled, next-generation user experiences that truly drive customer value."

Soucie said Vista offers a higher-fidelity graphical experience over previous operating systems, including Windows XP running .Net Framework 3.0. "Im not just talking about the new Aero look and feel, but Vista itself has superior rendering capabilities due to its new WDDM (Windows Display Driver Model) to leverage the power within the video graphics cards," he said.

/zimages/3/28571.gifMicrosofts Ben Fathi says his company is pleased with the security, performance and feedback it has received regarding Vista. Click here to read more.

For instance, three-dimensional rendering under Vista includes a feature called "anti-aliasing," which provides a smooth and crisp 3-D experience, Soucie said. "Without anti-aliasing, the 3-D objects would appear to have jaggy edges, taking away from the visual experience," Soucie said. "The importance of a feature like this is huge when it comes to a product like StandOut, whose value proposition is rich, cinematic-style visuals that feel like fluid and engaging motion pictures."

Soucie said Electric Rain is tapping three Vista features to "do things we couldnt do before." The three things are Vista Sidebar gadgets, the search capability in Vista and WPF.

Boston-based Cakewalk, a maker of music creation and recording software, has announced native support for Vista with its Sonar application, said Noel Borthwick, chief technology officer. Cakewalk is the consumer face of Twelve Tone Systems.

"We actually started preparing for Windows Vista with internal changes to our audio engine way back in 2003, after Microsoft presented Longhorn at PDC 2003," Borthwick said. "All these prior changes paved the way for us, making it a lot easier to take the final steps in making our applications fully Vista-compatible last year."

Next Page: Building killer Vista apps.