Getting Started with Ultrabook Development

By Gael H Hofemeier,

Published:07/13/2012   Last Updated:07/13/2012

Whether you are interested in writing software for the Windows 8 Desktop or for Windows 8 UI there are some things that you need to know in order to get started.  This blog will cover a number of points:

  • Navigating the Windows 8 User Interface (UI)
  • Significance of the Windows 8 UI (vs. the Desktop)
  • What is an App?
  • Requirements for developing software (OS, Visual Studio, Language selection)
  • Your first Windows 8 UI App – what are the steps involved (resource URLs included!)
  • Considerations for integrating Touch and Sensors

The following sections will  provide you with all the tools you need to get started writing rich and compelling software based on Windows 8.

Navigating the Windows 8 UI

First, Windows 8 is not simply Windows 7 + 1; it is a technology shift. Things have changed. If you are running Windows 8 on an Ultrabook, you will be greeted with the Windows 8 UI when you start your system. The Windows 8 UI looks like an interface on a mobile device/tablet, as shown below.

This interface is your new start menu for your notebook or convertible. If you are running a mobile device with Windows 8, you will only have the Metro UI; there will be no desktop. On the notebook, your programs can now be “pinned” to this new start menu and they look like apps. Programs/Apps can be removed from the  Windows 8 UI as well.

  • Tip: Toggle back and forth from the Metro UI to the Desktop by hitting the Windows Key
  • Tip: Alt F4 Closes an App

If you are running Windows 8 on a touch-enabled Ultrabook you can “swipe” the screen from left to right while in the Windows 8 UI in order to get back to your desktop environment. Swiping from right to left brings up the “Charms Bar”: Search, Share, Start (this is the Windows 8 UI), Devices and Settings.

From the Settings “Charm” (the one that resembles a gear) you can perform administration tasks (such as adding users), look at your devices, and perform searches.

  • Tip: Restart, Shutdown, Sleep is now found inside the Settings Charm

If you do not have a touch-enabled notebook, roll the mouse cursor over the lower right-hand side of the screen and the Charms Bar will appear.

What happened to “All Programs?”

You may be wondering by now how to find “All Programs” since the start menu is now the Windows 8 UI (I did.) If you right click anywhere on the screen while in the Windows 8 UI, a blue bar will appear along the bottom of the screen with an icon that says “All Apps” on the lower right-hand corner (see below.)

If you click on the “All Apps” icon, an “Apps” window will be displayed that has all programs installed on your device. You can select programs or apps to be pinned onto the main Start/Windows 8 UI.

Now you should be able to find your way around Windows 8. The desktop environment looks and behaves pretty much the same as before, unless you have a touch-enabled notebook, then you will be able to interact with the windows, screens, links (anything mousable) by touch as well as with the mouse.

What is an App?

From the “All Apps” screen, above, we see that all programs and all Apps are displayed. The next question might be “How is a Windows 8 UI App different than a traditional software application?” – Especially since both are displayed as tiles on the Windows 8 UI. The big difference is that an “App” is built to execute inside the Windows Run Time (and thus any companion mobile device), whereas the traditional application will run only in the Win32 or .Net environments.  We are seeing a shift in preference for Apps over Desktop applications. Consumers are migrating to tablets and other mobile devices in favor of, or in addition to the traditional PC. As we progress into the future we will start seeing more and more Win32 applications migrating to “Apps."  It is also important to note that Ultrabooks will be offered as convertibles as well so consumers will be able to switch from PC to Tablet from the same device.

Requirements for developing software (OS, Visual Studio, Language selection)

The first thing you need to do is install the Windows 8 OS onto your system (if it isn’t already there.) At the time of this blog, we only have Release Previews of Windows 8. You will need Windows 8 RTM and you will need Visual Studio 2012 Release Candidate.

Next, choose which language you want to write your Apps. (The assumption here is that little guidance is needed for developing desktop applications.) For Windows 8 UI apps, your choices are: JavaScript, C#, VB, C++, and Direct X. JavaScript is becoming more popular as App developers want one codebase to run their App on multiple devices.

Your first Windows 8 UI App – what are the steps involved?

There are many resources on the Microsoft Dev Center for developing Apps. I would recommend visiting their resources and working on the examples they have. Along with the Software Development Kit, there are many sample apps with examples having full language support. Microsoft has made it very easy to build their samples and try them out. There are also step by step instructions on writing your first “Hello World” program. Here are the basic steps for getting started:

  • Tip: F5, in VS2012 Builds, Deploys and Starts your App

Considerations for integrating touch and sensors

Since Apps will run mostly on mobile devices and Ultrabooks, developers should make sure their Apps take full advantage of all the touch and sensor features that can be equipped on all the devices. At the same time, developers will need to take into consideration that their Apps may be running on Ultrabooks that are not equipped with all the latest features. Their Apps should be able to check whether the device supports the feature and then if not, the App should still be able to function at a level that gives the user optimum satisfaction given their device’s capabilities.


Windows 8 brings on big changes, not only for consumers, but for App developers as well. This blog provided a preview of what the Windows 8 UI environment looks like and what its purpose is. It also covered what the difference is between an App and a Desktop program as well as how to get started writing Apps. My next blogs will dive into more details about working with the Sensor APIs.

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