Microsoft greases the skids for Windows 8 developers

How badly does Microsoft need attractive applications for its Windows 8 operating system?

So badly that it's giving everyone attending its Build 2012 developers conference a Surface tablet/PC, 100GB of free cloud storage via SkyDrive, a free Nokia Lumia 920 Windows 8 phone and a discounted developer's registration to the Windows store.

The company also announced the availability of a software developer's kit for Windows Phone 8.

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The goal is to get developers to buy into the Microsoft mobility vision -- that applications can readily be written to run on Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 machines, share resources via SkyDrive and make money for developers to boot.

During today's kickoff keynote for the four-day conference, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer (pictured) himself ran through a demonstration of key Windows 8 features on machines as diverse as an 84-inch touchscreen, the Microsoft Surface tablet/laptop (where the tablet meets the PC, Ballmer says) and Windows Phone 8 smartphones.

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"This is our real step into the mobile world," Ballmer told the gathering in a tent on the Microsoft campus.

The company announced that ESPN, SAP and Twitter all plan or have ready Windows 8 applications, demonstrating to developers the elite realm in which they might play, too.

Presentations also hammered home how developers can make money off their apps. If they sell through the Windows store, they reap $75% of the take for the app up to $25,000, then they make 80%. Also, the developers' kit enables setting up a tile within the app that can host an advertisement that the developer can sell and change.

The apps can also support in sales within applications -- like buying a level upgrade for a game while logged into the game.

Ballmer showed how changes made to a document in OneNote and stored in SkyDrive show up when accessed by other devices. Similarly, changing the photo on the lock screen and storing that to SkyDrive appear on the user's other Windows 8 or Windows Phone 8 devices.

Ballmer says the launch of Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 this fall when considered as a single event represent one of the top three events in Microsoft history, the other two being the release of the IBM PC with a Microsoft operating system and the launch of Windows 95.

Getting developers to create a broad inventory of apps that showcase Windows 8 new features is key to Windows 8 success, so Ballmer walked the crowd through them:

= Live tiles that display updated information on colored rectangles on the start screen. Developers need to tap into this capability to show, for instance, current temperatures to go with weather apps or scores to go with sports apps.

= Embedding software services in applications. For example, interfacing applications with the system search feature enables searching with that app for a given term. The example he used was searching for references to Jessica Alba -- who participated in the Windows Phone 8 launch this week -- in Internet Explorer, Outlook emails, Xbox, Finance, etc.

= Enabling the Windows 8 snap feature in apps so users can display them in a quarter of the screen at either side, to keep them visible even while working in another app. It's a way to track, say, the stock market while doing other work in Excel.

"They're all springboards for your imagination," Ballmer says.

Presenters at the keynote spent time explaining how with the new WinRT application architecture enables easy reuse of code for Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8. The apps written for one can't run in the same form on the other, but due to a common set of APIs for the two operating systems, entire blocks of code can be written for one and inserted in the other. This makes it much simpler to write apps for both platforms.

After giving attendees a free Surface tablet/laptop, Ballmer asked that they go out and create lots of apps for the Microsoft environment, promising that Microsoft would follow through with advertising that should boost the market for those apps.

"We will do more marketing for Windows 8 system, for Windows phones and for Surfaces," he says. "You will see our best work, and you will not be able to go to a magazine, to the Internet or turn on the television set without seeing our ads frequently."

Tim Greene covers Microsoft for Network World and writes the Mostly Microsoft blog. Reach him at tgreene@nww.com and follow him on Twitter @Tim_Greene.

Read more about software in Network World's Software section.

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Tags Windows Phone 8 developersMicrosoftMicrosoft Build 2012NokiaWindowsMicrosoft Windows 8softwareoperating systemskeynote Build 2012NTI

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