Developers confirm, explain why they're avoiding Vista

Hint: Demo bling can backfire

Windows developers are confirming the results of a survey released yesterday that found fewer than 1 in 12 programmers currently writing applications targeting Windows Vista.

"None of our customers are saying, 'G******it, we need those WPF controls now!'" said Julian Bucknall, CTO for Windows programming tools maker Developer Express, referring to one of Vista's most highly-touted features, its new graphical subsystem, Windows Presentation Foundation. Rather, "we find most are still sticking with ASP.Net and Windows Forms applications."

True to Microsoft's form, ASP.Net and Windows Forms and most of Windows XP's other legacy technologies still work fine in Vista. (The converse is also true: many Vista features can be installed as add-ons to XP.)

But as in every upgrade cycle, Microsoft runs the risk that developers may bypass the latest technologies -- in Vista's case, WPF, the XPS printing format that Microsoft is touting as a rival to Adobe's Portable Document Format (PDF); Windows Sidebar 'gadgets,' and others -- in favor of those further down the road, such as those expected in Vista's successor, Windows '7'.

"Microsoft tends to dump ten new technologies on us, but only 2 or 3 really stick," said Michael Krasowski, vice-president of PDSA, a Microsoft-focused 20-developer firm, citing the Windows DNA Architecture as an example.

Microsoft undoubtedly wanted to avoid its current predicament. It has been publicly talking up features in Vista since 2003 -- half a decade.

But such "overmarketing," as Krasowski calls it, can rebound. Experienced developers have become jaded towards the third-party apps Microsoft trots out as exemplars of Redmond's latest technology -- "demoware," he calls them -- that sparkle with flashy animation and video.

"You can't write an enterprise app like a demo. It'd be all soft and weak under the hood," he said. "We'd never put all that stuff in because it couldn't support 100 concurrent users."

Some say it's premature to declare Vista a flop with developers. For one thing, despite the 140 million copies Microsoft claims to have shipped, the market hasn't reached a tipping point yet.

"I can't see targeting something only to Vista when you have XP and Windows 2003 out there in huge numbers," said Dave Noderer, a Microsoft MVP who runs the Florida .Net User Group as well as his own software development firm, Computer Ways.

Others point out the symbiotic relationship between most Windows developers and the large enterprises that hire and pay them. Enterprises are proving even slower than the rest of the market at moving off XP, say analysts such as Forrester Research.

"Large enterprise don't transition overnight to the newest platforms," said Shannon Braun, a Microsoft MVP and Minneapolis-area-based programming consultant. "To me the adoption pace [of Vista by developers] seems pretty normal."

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Eric Lai

Computerworld
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