Windows 8 Update: Desperate for developers?

Online Metro-developer labs, no 99-cent apps, high Swedish price tag for Surface PCs

As the deadline looms for the release of Windows 8, Microsoft has launched a virtual lab where developers can tap into virtual instances of the forthcoming operating system and practice writing Metro-style applications.

Microsoft Virtual Labs is free and offers 17 different online classes that can be completed in 90 minutes or so with topics ranging from application bars and media capture to the Windows Store. Individual sessions are tailored for the programming language the developer wants to use.

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This is in addition to the live workshops Microsoft is running around the country in an effort to get developers proficient at building Metro apps and build up an apps inventory at the Windows Store.

The sheer volume of apps may be a concern for Microsoft. The store has about 400, which is probably more than any individual would want to use but pales compared to the 225,000-plus apps available for iPads, and the half million or so available for Android devices.

With an interface overhauled to work best on touchscreen devices, Windows 8 can't reach its full potential if it lacks applications customers want to use.

No 99-cent Metro apps

Microsoft announced the tiers at which developers will be able to set prices for their Windows 8 Metro applications to be sold in the Windows Store.

While iPad and Android users have become familiar with apps costing $.99, there will be no such bargain prices with Metro apps. The lowest tier is $1.49 and the highest publicly listed one is $4.99, although a Microsoft Web developers site says higher priced tiers are available.

On the plus side, the Windows Store will offer free one-week trials of any Metro app so customers can be sure they want to spring for the $1.49.

iPad beats Surface on price - in Sweden

The Swedish online retailer Webhallen is taking pre-orders for Windows Surface PCs at prices that could drive customers away in droves.

The top of the line model of Surface would go for 14,999 krona or $2,184, according to the site. Consider that compared to an iPad ($500 to $600) or even a MacBook Pro ($2,199) with a 15-inch Retina display, and you can imagine that customers might be reluctant to buy.

microsoft surface

Of course, that's just what Webhallen is asking. Microsoft has said nothing about the actual prices for the Surface PCs, which are due out in October. The Amazon.com Web site in Germany is also taking pre-orders, but isn't posting prices.

More printers, fewer drivers

In Windows 8, Microsoft introduces print class drivers. That's a set of drivers included in the operating system that support printers based on what page description language the printer uses. So rather than requiring a printer-specific driver, a printer can announce what PDL it uses and Windows 8 will employ the right print class driver to support it.

By working with printer manufacturers, Microsoft says in its Building Windows 8 blog that over time more and more printers will be supported using the print class drivers.

As a result, Microsoft doesn't have to include as many printer-specific drivers in the operating system in order to support the same percentage of printers. That means drivers tie up fewer resources, which is key with Windows RT, the version of Windows 8 that supports ARM devices and where resources are more scarce.

Another way Windows 8 reduces the size of drivers is by providing a generic user interface that can be used by multiple printers. So there is less need to include user-interface code within the drivers themselves, the blog says.

Build 2012

Microsoft's next developers' conference, Build 2012, is scheduled for Oct. 30 at the company's Redmond, Wash., headquarters. That's just days after the Oct. 26 release date for Windows 8.

The company says in a blog that Windows 8 will be one of the topics, but also Windows Azure, Windows Phone 8, Windows Server 2012 and Visual Studio 2012.

While it's unusual for such a large conference to be held on Microsoft grounds, the blog's author, Tim O'Brien, says that will give attendees access to more engineers who are actually working on the products that developers care most about.

(Tim Greene covers Microsoft for Network World and writes the Mostly Microsoft blog. Reach him at tgreene@nww.com and follow him on Twitter https://twitter.com/#!/Tim_Greene.)

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