Here’s why developers are avoiding Vista

Windows developers are confirming the results of a surveyreleased last Thursday 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 Inc. , 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 Inc., a Microsoft-focused 20-developer firm in Tustin Calif., citing the Windows DNA Architecture as an example.

Microsoft Corp. 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 Inc. in Deerfield Beach, Fla.

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 Inc.

“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.”

“Vista is too bleeding-edge — not for us, but for our clients,” Krasowski said. PDSA’s clients include large, blue-chip customers such as Kaiser Permanente and Boeing Inc. “They’re all leery of Vista.”

And why shouldn’t they be? According to data released this spring by migration software vendor AppDNA Ltd., about a fifth of enterprise applications running on XP break when moved straight to Vista, mostly due to pre-XP-era code still lingering in the app. That increases to nearly half for apps migrated from 32-bit XP straight to 64-bit Vista.

Another reason is that Microsoft, in an attempt to catch up to the Mac, emphasized consumer-y aesthetic features with Vista, with WPF, Aero and the DirectX 10 3-D graphics rendering engine all aimed at making Vista or its apps more pleasing to the eye.

More attractive apps are more user-friendly apps, says Microsoft, and that translates into increased user productivity. But that message remains a hard sell to enterprises, who demand their apps stay “lean and mean,” said Krasowski, not get “confused and cluttered.”

Others say learning how to take advantage of Vista’s new visual features remains daunting. Improving data presentation is “a good thing to do, but there is a lot of hacking through the undergrowth first,” Bucknall said. “I don’t think a lot of developers know how to get to that stage.”

Noderer is optimistic. While XP-era technologies such as Windows Forms “will be around for many years to come,” he said, Vista-era ones such as WPF “will slowly rise as the way to do Windows applications.”

But others think that the rise in popularity of server-delivered business apps — coupled with Microsoft’s recent moves to make its Internet Explorer 8 browser behave more like other Web browsers — could make Vista’s client-side graphics-enhancing features irrelevant.

“Ninety eight per cent of the apps we write are for the Web,” Krasowski said. “They’re more flexible and easier to maintain. Many of our clients are migrating from apps written in VB6 or .Net.”

Heather Havenstein contributed to this story.


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