Microsoft goes native - HTML5 that is
Written by Mike James   
Wednesday, 20 April 2011
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Microsoft goes native - HTML5 that is
A worrying situation

Shell integration

Now we need to look at the idea of integrating the browser into the operating system.

This is the idea that had Bill Gates running scared back in the early days of the Internet. His big worry was that with a browser of sufficient sophistication you could do anything you needed to do and therefore you didn't need an operating system - and you didn't need Windows. To combat this problem he decided that the best thing to do was embrace the web and build HTML into the desktop. This idea was called "Active Desktop" because at that time the marketing department put "Active" in front of everything they could - just like recently they have been putting "live" in front of everything and presumably in the future "native".

The real shock is that Active Desktop is still in there. It is still supported by Windows 7 and its how your folders and everything else that the shell displays are customised. An even bigger shock is that Active Desktop is based on HTML 4 with a few strange extensions and integrations into the Windows infrastructure. No one talks about it anymore and most of the documentation has been deleted but it really is still there.

Guess what integrating HTML5 with the shell should just be an upgrade - assuming that the people working on the project actually remember that Active Desktop is still well - active.

Making HTML5 native to the platform simply makes the platform a browser.

Silverlight and WPF

Of course the alternative is not to build HTML5 into the desktop but simply build th desktop into HMTL5 i.e. make IE10 the desktop. This fits in with the idea of using something like web apps a core feature of Windows 08 see  Jupiter - the way programs will be built for Windows 8? It is worth noticing that the much maligned Silverlight effectively provides Windows in a browser as long as you are prepared to accept that Windows means .NET.

There are lots of ways that Microsoft could make HTML5 native to Windows and it might be a reasonable response to the threat from both Android and the Chrome operating systems but Windows in a browser might be a way to save Windows but not Microsoft's revenue stream. 

Then we have the damage being done to Microsoft's most modern development environment. The emphasis on going native with HTML simply makes .NET look sidelined. Why have we all gone to the trouble of learning advanced .NET - WPF in particular - if the solution to the problem, every problem is HTML5?

If the future belongs to HTML5 then the WPF is the past.


I have noticed an increasing attitude of "why bother with WPF - its difficult and its dead".

So much so that Windows forms has almost become respectable again. It may be even more of a past technology than WPF but at least its build so solidly into the OS that it can't be completely sidelined - unless the OS is of course.

Tools fit for developers

Then we have the development tools issue. Visual Studio is arguably the best IDE you can find - or at least it was until version 2010 and even then it has facilities and ease of use that other IDEs only dream about. It is, along with the languages it supports Microsoft's flagship developer tool and even if you think there exists better you have to realise that it is what keeps many programmers plugging away at the Windows platform.

In switching to HTML5 Microsoft has to do something radical to make Visual Studio into a suitable environment for creating web apps. However at the moment all they can offer are a few improvements to the developer tools in the browser and Intellisense tweaks to the Expression designer which can do drag-and-drop forms editing for HTML5. Ask yourself where the code generation is? Ask where are the code and UI integration tools - code behind, code in front --- in fact where exactly is the code?

Currently these aren't tools - they are toys.


So the whole situation is - well - worrying. Microsoft is built on keeping developers happy and churning out applications of all sizes. Stever Balmer got it right when he famously focused on "Developers, Developers, Developers.... " but at the moment all Microsoft is doing is sowing the seeds of fear and doubt. If Steve Balmer can say "Developers, Developers, Developers..." then some one should point out to him  that developers work with code and without it they are something else altogether.

There is nothing all coherent in their approach to HTML5, standards, Silverlight, Windows, languages or frameworks.To a programmer logic is everything and Microsoft's approach is marketing lead not logic lead.

Microsoft seems to be taking us back to the days of browser wars but this time with no technology on offer that might make it worth it.

More Information

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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 20 April 2011 )