Create your first Windows 8 app

If you’re an established Windows or web developer, you’re probably used to your applications and development tools looking and working a certain way. It’s understandable if you’re in no hurry to learn a whole new design “language”, but embracing the new Windows 8 app framework could be a smart investment. Apps are showcased in the dedicated Windows Store, reaching millions of Windows users with an assurance of security and quality. And right now the store isn’t exactly overloaded with content, so there’s a real opening for high-quality apps that show off the features of the new OS.

Create your first Windows 8 app

Getting started in Visual Studio

When you’re ready to start building your first app, check out our tutorial on creating your first Windows 8 app in Visual Studio

Writing for Windows 8 needn’t mean starting from scratch. Microsoft has published a collection of free developer tools, including new versions of the familiar Visual Studio and Blend, to help developers get a head start. In this feature we’ll walk you through the process of designing and writing a tablet-style app, and show you how to get it listed on the Windows Store.

Developing a good tablet app isn’t for the absolute beginner. The tools are pitched at experienced developers, and since everything’s fairly new there isn’t yet a thriving support community. We’ll assume you’re familiar with Visual Studio, and have some experience of developing Windows applications – or web applications, which are in some ways closer to Windows 8 tablet apps.

While the Windows 8 interface is designed for touch, you can easily develop your apps on non-touch hardware. When it comes to final testing, however, there’s no substitute for a proper touchscreen, as we’ll discuss below.

Setting up Windows 8 & the SDK

Some developers like to develop on a virtual machine, which can be easily reconfigured and reverted to earlier state if needed. You can run Windows 8 in Oracle’s free VirtualBox, or VMware’s free VMware Player. If you’re already running Windows 8 Pro you can use Hyper-V to run Windows on Windows. It doesn’t matter which hypervisor you use, but what is important is that you give your virtual machine plenty of RAM and don’t starve it of processor power: you need your development environment to run smoothly so you can test the responsiveness of your app.

Microsoft recommends using a dual-monitor setup for development, with one display showing your app and Visual Studio running on the other. This helps you visualise changes as you work, and if your second monitor supports touch you can test your touch interface, too. If you don’t have a touchscreen monitor, you should get hold of some other touchscreen device for testing.

You’re now ready to install the software development kit, which can be downloaded from the MSDN Dev Center. Tablet-style apps can be built in Visual Basic, C#, C++ or JavaScript. At the time of writing, the designer view in Visual Studio is unavailable in JavaScript, but hopefully this will be updated in future.

Standard tablet-style apps, such as .NET apps, require a number of supporting files in addition to the code you write, and Visual Studio prepares these automatically when you select what sort of project you wish to build. It can also do some of the basic coding for you: select Create Project and you’ll see a selection of templates to choose from. We’ll start with a clean sheet, so you can dive in without having to get your head around any prewritten code.

Five steps of development

There are five main steps in writing and deploying a Windows 8 app. The first is the coding itself; then building and testing; deployment; certification testing; and finally uploading the finished product to the Windows Store. You can follow along the major milestones of the development process in our Windows Store app walkthrough.

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