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Is no-cost desktop software development dead on Windows 8?

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Microsoft is reportedly preparing to remove the compiler toolchain from its Windows SDK for Windows 8, in what appears to be an attempt to force developers into building Metro style apps.

Windows 8
Windows 8

Microsoft's core focus with Windows 8 is to introduce a new set of applications that are touch friendly, fullscreen, and designed to match the company's Metro design. Windows developers who wish to create Metro style apps will be able to take advantage of Microsoft's free-to-use Visual Studio 11 Express, but those who want to keep creating desktop applications may need to pay for the privilege.

Ars Technica reports that Microsoft's free upcoming Visual Studio 11 Express environment will only let developers create Metro style applications and nothing desktop-related. The change demonstrates Microsoft's focus on Metro style apps, but there's concern that the barrier to building Windows 8 desktop applications is now high. Previously, developers could build desktop apps using the free-to-use Visual C++ 2010 Express and Visual C# 2010 Express products, or upgrade to a higher Visual Studio 2010 tier (Professional or higher). The only choice for future Windows desktop apps is to stick with the 2010 tools or pay around $400-500 for Visual Studio 11 Professional, not an ideal option for desktop developers not eligible for discounted and free copies of Visual Studio licenses.

Microsoft is also reportedly planning to remove the compiler toolchain from the Windows SDK for Windows 8, meaning developers won't be able to create desktop apps outside of Visual Studio in a barebones way. Students will still get a free copy of Visual Studio 11 Professional through Microsoft's DreamSpark program, but for other developers the cost of such a license may serve as a block to desktop apps. It's hard to say whether no-cost desktop software development is truly dead just yet until Microsoft delivers its updated SDK, but it certainly looks like the company is prepared to make decisions to force some Windows developers into the Metro world.