Windows 10 apps to rule them all – phones, slabs and PCs: Microsoft pulls out 'universal' tool

Don't expect to run them on phones yet, though

Microsoft has released technology previews of new developer tools and an SDK for Windows 10, giving coders their first taste of what it's like to build Windows Universal Apps that run across PCs, phones, and tablets.

The tools are available now at no charge to members of Microsoft's Windows Insider program. Like Windows 10 itself, however, they're still in a raw state.

"Our goal with this release is to give you the opportunity to experiment with the cool new platform capabilities while we continue working to finish Windows 10," Windows developer product manager Cliff Simpkins said in a blog post.

Redmond gave us our first peek at said capabilities at this year's Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.  Among them is Adaptive UX, a set of new user interface controls and layout tools that adjust depending on the screen size and input type of the device they're running on. For example, controls might behave differently when they are triggered with touch than when they are clicked with a mouse.

Simpkins said the new Windows 10 tools make it easy for developers to add Adaptive UX components to existing Windows 8.1 apps.

The Windows 10 SDK also introduces the concept of API contracts, which allow developers to query the OS directly to determine whether a given feature is available on a given device, rather than relying on dodgy information like OS version numbers.

The preview tools require Visual Studio 2015 CTP6 to run, which is the latest preview version of Redmond's forthcoming IDE release. What's more, you'll also need to be up to date on your Windows 10 builds, because Universal Apps generated with the new tools will only run on the most recent one.

Unfortunately, these constraints mean apps built with the first preview of the kit won't be quite as "universal" as Microsoft's grand vision suggests. While running them on PCs and tablets is easy enough, there's no way to deploy apps to phones running Windows 10, although you can deploy them to an emulator (which is included). And testing apps on Xbox is right out, at least for now.

There are also plenty of limits to how you can build, debug and test Universal Apps using the new tools, as explained in Microsoft's release notes. For example, the diagnostic tools are buggy and can interfere with Visual Studio's debugger. Redmond has also listed a number of workarounds for known issues, some involving the command line.

The release also give short shrift to .Net developers. Universal Apps built with .Net rely on a tech called .Net Native, which compiles the code to native binaries rather than .Net's intermediate language. The trouble is that the current version of .Net Native only supports C# projects; .Net projects written in C++, JavaScript, or Visual Basic are no-go.

Still, this first set of tools give developers plenty to chew on. Microsoft has published documentation on the new capabilities available in Windows 10 to its website. Beginning on Monday, it also started pushing instructional code samples to a new repository hosted on GitHub.

Simpkins said to expect more documentation, including lots more code, to arrive close to Microsoft's annual Build developer conference, which kicks off in San Francisco on April 29. ®

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