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Why Front-End Developers Should Build Apps for Windows 8

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Every front-end developer should consider building apps for Windows 8. In this article, web developer Brandon Satrom (author of Building Windows 8 Apps with JavaScript), gives three reasons why building apps for Windows 8 is a no-brainer for developers, regardless of background.

Windows 8 is an amazing invention for web developers, and not just because the new OS ships with IE10, an excellent, HTML5-capable browser. Windows 8 is notable for web developers because it's the first OS that provides built-in support for building native desktop and device apps using web technologies—that is HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. What's more, these native applications have access to the exact same device APIs and underlying OS capabilities as those provided to apps written in C#, VB.NET, and C++. That means you get the power of native with the familiarity of web technologies. As a front-end developer, I must say that's a pretty exciting proposition.

With Windows 8, it's possible to "go native" with the web, but the question remains: Should you? Does it make sense to develop for Windows 8 using HTML5, or should you use "tried-and-true" languages like C#, VB.NET, and C++? Does Windows 8 really make use of transferrable skills that front-end developers will benefit from, or is the platform so specific that all benefit goes out the window with the first API call?

I believe that every front-end developer can and should consider building apps for Windows 8, and in this article, I'll share why. I'll start by discussing how the web has evolved, and how Microsoft has embraced this evolution. Then, I'll give you three key reasons why I think building apps for Win8 is a no-brainer for front-end developers.

The Open Web as a Platform

When I first started doing web development in the late 90s, the web felt more like a loose collection of digital, yet static, brochures than a platform. In those days, the exciting work was being done on the server-side, and most "web developers" wrote as little JavaScript as possible. The web was something that we all knew had potential, and it was something we all wanted to invest in, but it was also quite frustrating at times.

Fast-forward 13 years. Today, there's no question that the web is a platform. Many of the things that we used to consider to be essential desktop applications now exist as web properties. And those original "essential desktop apps?" They're gone. Microsoft Streets and Trips? Now, we have Google Maps for that. Quicken? No sir, Mint.com is where it's at. What about Encarta, that old digital desktop encyclopedia? Can you say Wikipedia?

As the web has grown in capability over the last decade, the scope of what we've asked the web to do has grown immensely. We've built apps that pushed and prodded the browsers, and browser vendors have responded with faster JavaScript and powerful rendering engines. What was born with XHR and branded Ajax, Web 2.0, and most recently, HTML5 is the simple realization that the ubiquity of the web, and the accessibility of its development tools, make it the most pervasive development platform we've ever seen.

Even as the definition of computing expands to include mobile uses enabled by phones and tablets with more power than the Gateway computer I lugged off to college, the web continues to push and prod and assert itself on all devices. To begin with, most of today's top-drawer mobile browsers—Safari on iOS, Chrome for Android, IE10 on Windows Phone 8, and Firefox Mobile—are nearly as capable as their desktop counterparts.

But it doesn't end there. If you do front-end development today, you've no doubt heard of PhoneGap or Titanium. Both of these tools are designed to enable developers to build native applications for iOS, Android, and other devices using HTML, JavaScript, and CSS. Developers build their apps using the APIs and libraries provided with these tools, and when done, package their work up into native binaries that can be submitted to app stores.

With Windows 8, Microsoft has taken a similar approach, but they've bundled it right into the OS. For the first time, Redmond's flagship operating system enables developers to build mobile and desktop apps for the Windows Store using the front-end tools we know and love. While some out there might be skeptical of the claim that the web is a true application platform, there's no question that Microsoft has bought in. Let's talk now about a couple of reasons why you should, too.

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