Jeffrey S. Hammond and I wrote this research together. The full report is available to Forrester clients at this link.

One Microsoft platform era is ending, and another is beginning. The .NET era as we’ve known it is winding down. .NET doesn’t go away — it becomes Microsoft’s preferred server environment for a broader platform that also includes Windows 8 clients, the Windows Runtime (WinRT) application programming interface (API), and the Windows Azure cloud environment. This collection of technologies will define the new platform era — Forrester calls the set the new Windows platform. Why is Microsoft making a big change now? The answer is simple: Mobile devices from Apple and based on Google’s Android threaten Microsoft’s “Wintel” client franchise. Microsoft must introduce major change to its platform to keep up with advances in client hardware and device acquisition as well as an evolution in the very nature of software applications.

Microsoft has endeavored to make introduction of its new platform technologies evolutionary, and application development and delivery (AD&D) pros won’t face a forced march to the new technologies. But few AD&D leaders yet see the big picture of the new Windows platform, much less understand its implications for their .NET strategies. Our research report advises clients on how Windows 8, WinRT, Windows Azure, and .NET Framework 4.5 can help them develop and support mobile and cloud applications, create new styles of web and desktop applications, and deliver solutions faster, all while minimizing the disruptions to their current .NET activities.

Key research findings:

  • AD&D leaders must assess many new platform services from Microsoft. The many AD&D pros that see .NET as a homogeneous client and server web platform now have a more diverse future to consider. Determine how and when Microsoft’s new support for mobile devices, new user experience designs, new development languages, new APIs, and new cloud deployment options fit into your .NET strategy.
  • Enterprise timelines clash with Microsoft’s need for mobile relevance. Enterprises focus on mostly ASP.NET, but Microsoft needs to reach the new generation of developers fleeing Windows/Intel desktops for HTML5 and mobile development on ARM devices. Microsoft has managed platform transitions pretty well in the past, but AD&D leaders who plan now will face greater opportunity and less dislocation in the future.
  • New platform choices may reduce developer productivity. AD&D pros laud Microsoft for the ease of development that its prescriptive and integrated .NET platform and Visual Studio promote. Microsoft’s more expansive platform offers more client and server-side development choices, and deployment may for some customers result in greater complexity compared with today’s typical environment, reducing productivity.

With Windows 8, Windows RT, .NET Framework 4.5, and Windows Azure, Microsoft has reached its latest existential moment. Can Microsoft make another big platform leap? Yes, but the odds are long. So much of Microsoft’s future growth and profitability is tied to the success of this platform, and the obstacles to success with Windows 8 and WinRT, and to some degree Windows Azure, are great. This is a shift that Microsoft must get right or face serious constraints on its growth in future years.

Our basic advice: Realign your Microsoft platform strategy. For AD&D leaders with big commitments to .NET, Microsoft’s platform shift raises two general questions: What does the new Windows platform mean to your organization going forward, and what should you do about your current .NET investments? Evaluate the platform as a whole, not just its individual pieces. At this early stage, this exercise will equip you either to shift the emphasis of your platform strategy to a different technology set or vendor or decide to stick with Microsoft and begin tracking the new platform’s progress.