Windows 7 and Azure

This article was originally published in VSJ, which is now part of Developer Fusion.
Windows 7 should be available as a public beta download soon, and it’s causing a lot of interest from users and developers. As the successor to Windows Vista it promises to be more stable and more efficient.

From the developer point of view Vista has been a mixed blessing because it requires extended support in the form of new versions for applications and drivers in particular. Windows 7 shouldn’t introduce another layer of complexity because it is designed to use Vista drivers and applications. The Windows Installer should also make things easier with reduced custom code, a multi-package installation option and a rollback. A new service Control Manager can run services based on a system-generated trigger which opens up new ways for us to package services and make them available according to the environment. An improved troubleshooting platform based on PowerShell 2, which is now included as standard, should make it easier to discover why an application won’t run on a particular machine. If you do want to extend you applications then the new touch API, which provides facilities such as finger panning, gestures, and inertia should make them stand out. The handwriting recognition input panel is also much improved and possibly ready for mainstream application use. If you have been busy creating Gadgets, then the good news is that they are still in Windows 7 and have broken out of the sidebar to live on the desktop. A new Media API is designed to make it easier to write audio/video applications. There is still no sign of the advanced filing system, FS, but users can now create “Libraries” which span storage devices. There are lots of other new features and facilities, but it is surprising how many of the new APIs aren’t managed but still targeted at the C++ programmer. If Microsoft wants us to stay with .NET then it needs to provide the facilities for us to do so and begin to take it seriously.

The second “big” news on the operating system front is the announcement of Windows Azure – a “cloud” version of Windows. The idea is that, at first at least, Microsoft will open data centres running Azure and users will offload computing tasks to the Azure servers. At the moment low-level information on how it will all work isn’t available – it is simply described as “a platform for running Windows applications and storing their data in the cloud”. Each application has a Virtual Machine (VM) to itself running Windows Server 2008. However, unlike alternative systems from Amazon say, the client doesn’t provide the VM image and the application is more or less ignorant of the VM it is running in. What Microsoft claims is that you should be able to develop an application using .NET and deploy to the cloud to run on Azure and be available to end users. This means that you can scale your applications without having to invest in additional hardware – the only cost being the charges that Microsoft make for the use of their data centres.

The way in which Azure integrates with existing Microsoft cloud technologies such as Live Services isn’t at all clear, and we will have to wait to see how it all works out in the end.

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