Microsoft Makes Life Easier For Developers With Tools For Multi-Device, Cross-Platform Support

Microsoft, at the opening of its Build conference on Wednesday, unveiled a series of projects and technologies with a common theme: letting developers use more of the code they write to build apps that run across PCs, tablets and smartphones, as well as on multiple platforms.

And while Microsoft didn't say anything about acquiring mobile startup Xamarin, which lets developers build iOS and Android apps using Microsoft's C# programming language, it did release its own tool for cross-platform development as an open source project.

"One thing we are doing is making sure the opportunity for you as developers across the Windows family is expanding," Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in a keynote at the event.

[Related: Sources: Microsoft In Talks To Acquire Mobile App Startup Xamarin ]

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Microsoft is touting a new technology called Universal Windows Apps, which lets developers write one set of code for apps that run on Windows PCs, phones and tablets. This makes it possible to take apps built for Windows RT and use them in desktop mode, said Nadella.

"That's completely opening up a huge base of users for your application," Nadella said.

Universal Windows Apps are based on the new Windows runtime and give developers a common way to build and architect apps using whatever programming languages they’re familiar with, David Treadwell, corporate vice president in Microsoft's Operating Systems group, said in the keynote.

Microsoft has added developer templates for building Universal Windows Apps in its release candidate for Visual Studio 2013 Update 2, which is out now. In addition to being able to share code across devices, the update also includes diagnostic tools for developers to use before submitting their apps to the Windows Store.

Also new is Shared App Identities, a Microsoft technology that lets customers buy an app from the Windows Store and run it on a phone or a PC. This means it's not necessary to buy separate apps for phones and PCs, as has previously been the case, Treadwell said.

Microsoft is aware that many developers want to build apps for iOS and Android devices, and so it's now making its Windows Library for JavaScript available as an open source project under the Apache 2.0 license. The source code for WinJS is now available on GitHub.

Microsoft is working with PhoneGap, Xamarin and Unity, which also provide tools for cross-platform development, Nadella said. Sources told CRN earlier this month that Microsoft was talking with Xamarin about acquiring or making a significant investment in the San Francisco-based startup, but Nadella didn't offer any insight into the status of those talks.

Microsoft wants every developer to use code they write on multiple platforms and form factors, Nadella said. "It's crazy to abandon what you've built," he said in the keynote. "It's also crazy not to take what you've done and leverage it across a broad range of devices."

Though Nadella didn't field live questions from the audience, he did address several prerecorded questions from Microsoft developers. One was from an Android developer, who asked why he should feel compelled to build apps for Windows.

"You want to build for Windows because we are going to innovate with a challenger mindset," Nadella responded. "Microsoft isn't just an incumbent market leader touting its next version of Windows. It's innovating in hardware and software to go after the market opportunity," he added.