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Developing Business Applications For Windows 8

The arrival of Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012 will bring its tablet inspired user interface to the mainstream.  While many application types will readily benefit from the new design, developers of traditional business applications may wonder how their applications will fare. What might not be as readily apparent is that Metro represents a shift in mental design philosophy as much as a new graphical theme.

This is an important distinction because it shows how Metro can be relevant to all users, not just those with tablets or touchscreen based devices. To explore some of the design decisions being made when embracing Metro, Microsoft's Robert Green introduces Nadine Fox of Macadamian. Together they profile an application they developed for Metro which is representative of a traditional line of business application, a business expense management system.

One of the themes Green repeatedly mentions is "content over chrome". The results of this convention are apparent in the look of the application. While the application is running under Windows 8 and driven by a mouse, the traditional menu bar and the newer ribbon are both gone. Instead, the primary content-- expense report items-- are the focus. The only tie to the traditional application is the "App Bar" which appears based on context when certain application items are selected. Otherwise it hides off screen, to minimize user distraction.

To further emphasize the content over chrome mantra, even the traditional message boxes are discouraged. Instead notifications from the application are placed inline with the fields that require the information:

Inline error message


Green also demonstrated some of the other Windows 8 specific features his sample application could take advantage of, including the sharing facility. This provided access to sharing via email, Twitter, or sending to quick note.

In watching the presentation, one is left with the impression that there indeed a viable path forward for business applications under the Windows 8 style UI, but they will require a new approach in their presentation and design. The challenge facing developers will be in obtaining the necessary time and artistic design resources to take advantage of the new look.

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