Xamarin, IBM lob cross-platform mobile app dev tools at Microsoft coders

More gadgets to get C# apps running on Android, iOS, OS X

Xamarin's Evolve conference is underway in Atlanta, and on Wednesday the company announced new tools for cross-platform mobile development, along with a new partnership with IBM.

Three-year-old Xamarin was formed to enable developers to code for Android, iOS, and OS X using Microsoft's C# language and .Net Framework. The company's technology is based on Mono, an open source implementation of .Net initiated by Miguel de Icaza, now Xamarin's CTO.

With it, developers can write non-visual code that runs on multiple device types, and then create user interfaces using either the native tools for each platform or a cross-platform interface definition tool called Xamarin.Forms, which is based on Microsoft's XAML language. The IDE is either Microsoft's Visual Studio or Xamarin Studio, the company's dedicated tool that runs on both Windows and OS X.

On Wednesday, Xamarin announced four new tools.

Miguel de Icaza at Xamarin Evolve

Miguel de Icaza speaking at Xamarin Evolve 2014

The first, Sketches, is an interactive C# (and soon F#) shell. You type in a line of code and it executes instantly – so you can experiment with user interface code to try out different colours or borders, for example, and see instant results. It also shows an analysis of the code, such as how many times a loop executes, and will visualise data with charts. The current preview works with iOS, Android and OS X code in Xamarin Studio running on OS X, with support for Android, iOS, and Windows code in Visual Studio to follow.

Another new tool released as a public preview is Xamarin Profiler, which collects performance and memory allocation data and creates reports that you can view in your IDE. A stack trace shows the chain of code that is responsible for a problem.

Xamarin Insights is a debugging and analysis tool for deployed applications. If your app is instrumented with Insights, it will send analytics and crash reports to Xamarin's cloud service. The developer has fine-grained control over what data to collect, and all the data is encrypted, Xamarin CEO Nat Friedman assured The Reg.

Xamarin Android Player

Xamarin Android Player runs rings around Google's emulator

Finally, Xamarin showed off a zippy new Android emulator that runs on Windows and OS X. Google's official Android emulator is horribly slow, especially on startup, and it's limited when it comes to applications that use accelerated graphics. Xamarin Android Player, now in preview, uses the open source Virtual Box tech as the basis for a new, faster emulator. The UI is built using native components for OS X and Windows respectively, avoiding the generic Java look and feel of Google's tools, and it uses OpenGL for fast graphics. You can also debug an APK (Android Package) by dragging and dropping it onto the emulator.

Xamarin also demonstrated its recently launched Test Cloud at Evolve, which is a set of over 1,000 Android and iOS devices on which developers can deploy and test code over the internet. A scripting language lets you simulate user actions or device changes, such as rotating from portrait to landscape, and you can later play them back to see how your application behaved.

In all, the new tools are worthy additions for Xamarin, which certainly turned up at the right moment. C# is a popular language, but Microsoft platform developers need a way to build clients for mobile devices, most of which run iOS or Android. Microsoft itself was initially wary of Mono, but now needs Xamarin in order to achieve the "any device" strategy championed by CEO Satya Nadella.

The outcome is fast growth and a company with which lots of other firms are looking to partner. Microsoft heads the list, but Amazon, Google, IBM, and Salesforce are all sponsors and supporters, along with cloud companies like Dropbox and Twilio, component vendors like Infragistics and DevExpress, and a bunch of others. In addition, while Xamarin claimed 288,000 developers this time last year, it says it has 755,000 today.

Among Wednesday's partner announcements was that IBM has teamed with Xamarin to offer libraries and IDE extensions to support Worklight, its mobile middleware that integrates with enterprise application servers.

With Microsoft struggling to establish its own mobile client platform, whether Windows Phone or Windows tablets, Xamarin is attractive to C# developers who need to build mobile apps. One snag, however, is that the tools are subscription-only and relatively expensive for independent developers or small companies. Xamarin's progress is impressive, though, and if the tools perform as advertised, it will continue to grow. ®

Narrower topics

Other stories you might like

  • UK government opens consultation on medic-style register for Brit infosec pros

    Are you competent? Ethical? Welcome to UKCSC's new list

    Frustrated at lack of activity from the "standard setting" UK Cyber Security Council, the government wants to pass new laws making it into the statutory regulator of the UK infosec trade.

    Government plans, quietly announced in a consultation document issued last week, include a formal register of infosec practitioners – meaning security specialists could be struck off or barred from working if they don't meet "competence and ethical requirements."

    The proposed setup sounds very similar to the General Medical Council and its register of doctors allowed to practice medicine in the UK.

    Continue reading
  • Microsoft's do-it-all IDE Visual Studio 2022 came out late last year. How good is it really?

    Top request from devs? A Linux version

    Review Visual Studio goes back a long way. Microsoft always had its own programming languages and tools, beginning with Microsoft Basic in 1975 and Microsoft C 1.0 in 1983.

    The Visual Studio idea came from two main sources. In the early days, Windows applications were coded and compiled using MS-DOS, and there was a MS-DOS IDE called Programmer's Workbench (PWB, first released 1989). The company also came up Visual Basic (VB, first released 1991), which unlike Microsoft C++ had a Windows IDE. Perhaps inspired by VB, Microsoft delivered Visual C++ 1.0 in 1993, replacing the little-used PWB. Visual Studio itself was introduced in 1997, though it was more of a bundle of different Windows development tools initially. The first Visual Studio to integrate C++ and Visual Basic (in .NET guise) development into the same IDE was Visual Studio .NET in 2002, 20 years ago, and this perhaps is the true ancestor of today's IDE.

    A big change in VS 2022, released November, is that it is the first version where the IDE itself runs as a 64-bit process. The advantage is that it has access to more than 4GB memory in the devenv process, this being the shell of the IDE, though of course it is still possible to compile 32-bit applications. The main benefit is for large solutions comprising hundreds of projects. Although a substantial change, it is transparent to developers and from what we can tell, has been a beneficial change.

    Continue reading
  • James Webb Space Telescope has arrived at its new home – an orbit almost a million miles from Earth

    Funnily enough, that's where we want to be right now, too

    The James Webb Space Telescope, the largest and most complex space observatory built by NASA, has reached its final destination: L2, the second Sun-Earth Lagrange point, an orbit located about a million miles away.

    Mission control sent instructions to fire the telescope's thrusters at 1400 EST (1900 UTC) on Monday. The small boost increased its speed by about 3.6 miles per hour to send it to L2, where it will orbit the Sun in line with Earth for the foreseeable future. It takes about 180 days to complete an L2 orbit, Amber Straughn, deputy project scientist for Webb Science Communications at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, said during a live briefing.

    "Webb, welcome home!" blurted NASA's Administrator Bill Nelson. "Congratulations to the team for all of their hard work ensuring Webb's safe arrival at L2 today. We're one step closer to uncovering the mysteries of the universe. And I can't wait to see Webb's first new views of the universe this summer."

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022