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.
“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.
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.”
Forrester Research analyst Ted Schadler said consumers will not immediately upgrade their systems to Vista. “However, its now clear that smart application developers and technology product marketers will build killer applications using Vistas advanced graphics and communications technology,” Schadler said.
The New York Times Times Reader, a Vista-based beta application, is one such application, he said. “Its the visuals and the underlying capabilities made manifest in killer applications that will convince consumers to upgrade,” Schadler said. “It took only one application to convince me: the Times Reader.”
Yahoo, of Sunnyvale, Calif., is building a new version of its Yahoo Messenger real-time communications service, designed for Vista. And the team used the WPF framework to build dynamic features on top of the core communications features in Vista, officials said. The service will be optimized for Vista and will feature a cinematic user interface providing rich animations and visual design, officials said.
Matthew Skyrm, director of product management for Yahoo Messenger, said Yahoo wanted immersion in the Vista technology and decided to base its service on WPF. The company then contracted with Frog Design, a Palo Alto, Calif., design consultancy, to help with the design of Yahoo Messenger for Vista.
“We have quite a bit of experience with WPF,” said Mark Ligameri, executive creative director at Frog Design. Ligameri said Frog Design also has “developers who are more along the lines of designers” working on the Yahoo service for Vista and adding interactivity and dynamic visuals. Working alongside Yahoos developers, Frog Design is prototyping designs using WPF, he said.
Josh Jacobson, senior product manager for Yahoo Messenger, said Vista and WPF “set the bar pretty high for user experience.”
In addition, WPF helps facilitate a better working relationship between developers and designers, provides resolution independence, enables smooth transitions for animations, and provides improved 3-D capabilities.
Roger Sanborn, co-founder and CTO of 90 Degree Software, in Vancouver, British Columbia, said, “We saw that the introduction of WPF and WCF not only would increase our productivity in developing our application, it also provided us with technologies we would have otherwise needed to develop ourselves. It was mainly these two reasons that caused us to choose developing on Windows Vista and leveraging the .Net 3.0 Framework.”
Sanborn said one of the most powerful features of WPF is that it separates the visual layout from the code behind it. “We have found that using the Extensible Application Markup Language [XAML] has helped us not only increase our overall productivity in writing UIs, it also has helped us in being able to adapt the UI very quickly based on the feedback we receive from users,” Sanborn said.
90 Degrees Radius reporting system has been certified for Vista and also takes advantage of WCF, particularly its peer networking capability.
Jim Arrowood, an enterprise architect with Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group, in Tulsa, Okla., said, “One major benefit gained out of the box from Windows Communication Foundation for Dollar Thrifty was the ability to offer different Web service endpoints built upon a single code base.” Arrowood is working on a new car rental system for Dollar Rent A Car and Thrifty Car Rental that will be based on Vista.
Developers can use the existing Microsoft tool set, Visual Studio 2005, to build applications for Vista, Allchin said. The next major revision of the tools platform, code-named Orcas, will improve development for Vista, but “you can use whats available today,” Allchin said.
And Microsoft recently upgraded the tools with a service pack. The company released Visual Studio 2005 Service Pack 1 at the end of 2006. “Well also be doing a Vista refresh for that service pack, and that will be coming out this quarter,” said Jay Roxe, lead product manager in Microsofts developer division.
In addition to providing a more graphical environment, Vista helps developers build more secure applications, Allchin said. With Vista, “our tools are much better, our guidance is phenomenally better and Vista by its very design will encourage developers to follow a set of methodologies that will end up with a more secure application,” he said.
Jeffrey Richter, a consultant and co-founder of Wintellect, in Knoxville, Tenn., said he wouldnt say the application is more secure with Vista, but that “the user is better protected from rogue applications when the user is running Vista as compared to previous versions of Windows.”
“Developers are the first on Vista, and with the new UAC [User Account Control] security, they will see where they are improperly relying on administrator privileges in their code. In fixing those issues so their applications run under Vista, they will also be making their application more likely to run on previous operating systems when users are running as non-admins. As a longtime least-privileges zealot, this will definitely help everyone, especially IT departments,” said John Robbins, another Wintellect consultant and co-founder.
Mike Rogers, product unit manager for terminal emulation at Attachmate, in Seattle, said, “When you look at all of the capabilities added in Windows Vista, the feature set certainly targets security and end-user productivity.” Attachmates Reflection 2007 and Extra X-treme v9 support Vista. “Vista enables our application to run in a secure environment that is governed and protected by the operating system itself,” Rogers said.