I had to write this blog post after reading Peter Bright’s post on Ars Technica called "No-cost desktop software development is dead on Windows 8: You won’t be able to use the free Visual Studio Express to develop desktop apps". In Peter’s article he slams Microsoft by saying that "Redmond has decided not only that Visual Studio Express users should have the ability to develop Metro-style applications: they should have no other choice." This is quite an exaggeration since Microsoft still has 6 versions of Visual Studio Express available for download for building Windows 8 desktop applications (VB 2008 and 2010 Express, Visual C# 2008 and 2010 Express, and Visual C++ 2008 and 2010 Express). Here is a complete list of the Visual Express IDE’s available from Microsoft to download today:
- Visual Studio 2008 Express Editions
- Visual Studio 2010 Express Editions
- Visual Studio 11 Express Beta
There are plenty of other "free" IDE’s to download for Windows 8 desktop applications including MonoDevelop (C#), Eclipse (Java/C/C++), codelite (C/C++), and Code::Blocks (C/C++) just to name a few. Also, since Flash will run on Windows 8 desktop, you can even include FlashDevelop.
- Developers, including students, have a plethora of free IDE’s to choose from for developing applications on Windows 8 desktop. But, I would argue, if you are a student using Windows 8, then you would probably be interested in developing Metro styled applications for Windows 8 and Windows RT. The reason is obvious. For a minimal charge ($49 per year) a student can publish his or her apps in a global marketplace to sell the apps for them. This is half the price of Apple’s iOS Developer Program. The student does not have to pay this price if they are just learning, but if they want Microsoft to market it for them and collect the credit card payments, and distribute the application, a $49 price tag is nothing.
- But once again, students don’t have to develop applications for Metro, they can use the many free IDE’s including the 11 from Microsoft and dozens from other companies to build applications either web, desktop, mobile, or whatever for Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7, or Windows 8. The only IDE’s of the 11 listed above from Microsoft that builds applications that can’t run on the Windows 8 desktop are Visual Studio 2010 Express for Windows Phone (which will only run on Windows Phone 7) or Visual Studio 11 Express for Windows 8 Beta (which runs in Windows RT and Windows 8 Metro mode).
- Why should developers downloading a free IDE care? Well first of all, Metro is a huge shift away from Windows 7 (some say it is as big a shift from DOS to Windows). This shift requires thinking and designing apps that can run in a light processor with minimal multitasking (think ARM processors). In a programming model similar to iOS, Windows 8 Metro apps will store data in the cloud primarily, and are expected to be unloaded and reloaded into memory fast. This is an important model for students to learn how to program within because it will help them build for iOS and Android as well, since this model is similar across the mobile platforms.
- So to conclude, Microsoft has a ton of IDE’s for developing desktop apps for Windows 8 (since Windows 8 desktop is similar to Windows 7 desktop applications). Basically any app that can run in Windows 7 should run fine in Windows 8. For that matter, most Windows XP apps should run fine in Windows 8. So students and new developers have a huge choice of IDE’s to get started. If they want to make money though, they are best off using Visual Studio 11 Express for Windows 8 Beta, because if they think they have a hit, all they need to do is pay $49 and they can start racking in the cash to help pay for their education costs.