Build 2014: Microsoft Delivers Universal Windows Apps

Developers now have the ability to build universal Windows apps that run across PCs, tablets and phones

Microsoft continues to move towards its ultimate goal of a unified Windows ecosystem, after making available a release candidate (RC) of Visual Studio 2013 Update 2.

The new software provides significant improvements to the flagship tools suite as well as support for the Windows Phone 8.1 and Windows 8.1 Update 1 platforms, also released 2 April.

Frequent Upgrades

In mid-November, Microsoft launched Visual Studio 2013 and committed to focus on providing agility and delivering continuous value to customers through more consistent and frequent Visual Studio releases. Microsoft also pledged to deliver superior cloud development tools with Visual Studio Online.

Windows 8 (1)Now nearly five months later, at Microsoft’s Build 2014 developer conference, the company has taken a next step forward in continuing to execute on that vision with the delivery of release candidate of Visual Studio 2013 Update 2, which “is one of the most significant updates we’ve ever done for Visual Studio,” said Soma Somasegar, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Developer Division. Microsoft has seen more than 3.7 million downloads of Visual Studio 2013, which is faster adoption than with Visual Studio 2012, Somasegar said.

The major new features of Visual Studio 2013 Update 2 include Windows Phone tools and support for universal Windows application development, the final release of Team Foundation Server 2013 Update 2, and TypeScript 1.0. Visual Studio 2013 Update 2 RC is a “go-live” release, which means it is usable for production systems.

“Software is going to continue to have a key influence in both how we live and how we work – particularly if you think about the world as a cloud-first or mobile-first world,” Somasegar said. “More and more people prefer the economics and the agility that the cloud provides and they want to be on the cloud. So you have these two things coming together. So we think about that world and we want to make sure we deliver the best tools and the best developer services for people to build applications and services that live in that cloud-first, mobile-first world.”

Platform Unification

Microsoft delivered new developer platform capabilities in Windows Phone 8.1 and the next major step toward platform unification with universal Windows apps for a common Windows runtime across phones, tablets and PCs.

With Windows 8.1 and Windows Phone 8.1 apps both building on the same Windows Runtime, developers can create universal Windows apps, sharing a large amount of their code between Windows and Windows Phone, Somasegar said. “In Visual Studio, we’ve introduced a notion of shared projects for C#, C++ and JavaScript, making sharing code and assets between the Windows and Windows Phone heads of the same app as easy as possible.”

Developers can create a project with heads for Windows and Windows Phone, or right-click to add a Windows or Windows Phone head to an existing application, he said. Microsoft has been gradually moving toward this capability for years and continues on the path to true unification of the development platform, the company said.

Indeed, Visual Studio 2013 Update 2 RC contains tools for the next generation of the Windows Phone platform and the Windows platform. “We have what we call a Windows Device Platform update that we’re going to be delivering at Build that contains a platform for phones in Windows Phone 8.1 and an update to Windows 8.1. And it also contains the latest tools that let you target those platforms,” Somasegar told eWEEK. “We are taking a huge step forward in what we call platform unification. Whether you are running Windows on a PC or a laptop, or whether you are running Windows on a slate, or whether you are running Windows on a phone, you can now use a concept we call Universal Project in Visual Studio to build one application where you literally share 90 percent of the APIs and a lot of your code and build different heads for the different form factors. You want to be able to build one app that spans across all Windows form factors.”

Indeed, Windows Phone 8.1 also enables developers to build applications using the Windows Runtime, with an API surface that is over 90 percent aligned with Windows 8.1 applications.  Visual Studio 2013 Update 2 enables developing WinRT-based apps for Windows Phone in C#/XAML, C++/XAML, C++/DirectX and JavaScript/HTML, Somasegar said.

Moreover, the suite of tools in Visual Studio for Windows Store development can all be used during development, debugging and diagnostics for Windows Phone 8.1 projects.

Open Microsoft

Microsoft also delivered TypeScript 1.0 and announced it is now taking contributions from the open-source community on TypeScript. TypeScript is Microsoft’s superset of JavaScript that is aimed at facilitating the development of enterprise-scale JavaScript applications. TypeScript has been an open-source project on Microsoft’s CodePlex site for more than a year and is now open to contributions.

In addition, Microsoft delivered a preview of its .NET Native Code Compilation for Windows and Windows Phone. The .NET Native is Microsoft’s attempt to combine the productivity of C# and .NET with the performance of native code. .NET Native is a faster just-in-time compiler, or rather an ahead-of-time compiler, that builds off of the Microsoft C++ compiler’s optimiser to produce native images with improvements to startup time, memory usage and application performance.

Meanwhile, Microsoft provided the final release of Team Foundation Server (TFS) 2013 Update 2.  This update provides dozens of new features in TFS, including improvements to Git support, backlog management in TFS Web Access, support for tags throughout Visual Studio and improvements in lightweight charting.

Other new features and updates in Visual Studio 2013 include improvements to ASP.NET and Web Tools, diagnostics tools, Azure tools, as well as updates to Microsoft’s release management and testing tools.

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Originally published on eWeek.