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Microsoft’s Silence is Infuriating .NET Developers

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Earlier this month Microsoft unveiled a new touch-centric UI for Windows 8. According to the presentation and matching press release, this new UI allows Windows 8 applications built using just HTML5 and JavaScript to “have access to the full power of the PC”. This is great news for web developers looking to do more with the Windows platform, but all the buzz is about what isn’t being said.

By failing to mention whether or not WPF and/or Silverlight can be used to create applications for the new Windows 8 UI, Microsoft has once again sown the seeds of doubt amongst .NET developers. That alone really isn’t news; Microsoft is far too large a company to talk about every product in every announcement. The problem is Microsoft is flatly refusing to confirm or deny .NET’s role in the application model for Windows 8 at every level.

The last time a Microsoft executive misspoke about Silverlight was at PDC 2010. Tensions were already running high amongst Silverlight developers, a group that often finds themselves in a strange juxtaposition between the rich client developers and web developers. So when Bob Muglia gave the impression that Silverlight was being abandoned there were serious repercussions. Developers, and especially consultants, found themselves in the unenviable position of trying to justify their decision to use Silverlight to their employers and customers. Numerous contracts were cancelled during the first few weeks after the PDC as skittish customers dropped Silverlight in favor of Flex or HTML 5.

After a series of public statements and a Silverlight-focused event things calmed down a bit, but doubts about the platform remained. The lackluster attention for the non-Mobile version of Silverlight at MIX 2011 also ruffled some feathers, but it didn’t generate the same sort of backlash as the PDC. Developers and customers were beginning to believe that Silverlight, though no longer the favored child, has a solid place in the future of Microsoft.

Then the Windows 8 announcement came. Thinking this was once again just another PR mishap, developers and journalists leaned on their contacts for another statement clarifying the role of WPF and Silverlight. This time it isn’t just an academic exercise, knowing which, if either, of these technologies will be usable for the new Windows 8 Start screen could affect their decision on what to invest in for the short term as well.

In an apparent attempt to boost excitement for Microsoft’s new conference, Build, no one is willing to publically speak about the future of .NET development. Between now and September all we have is rumors and small snippets of information such as Mary Jo Foley’s article on the Jupiter UI.

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