Through reading various discussions on the Canadian Developer Connection group on LinkedIn (have you joined the group yet?) and talking to some of you at conferences and workshops about developing (or rather, not yet developing) Windows Store apps, one pain point was common – though the desire to build apps is there, access to a Windows 8 development environment is not. Different reasons came up, such as access to the OS itself (though if you have MSDN, you can download it from there or you can download a free trial), hardware to actually install it on, or getting the dev tools required to get going (which again, can be downloaded for free from the Windows Dev Center or MSDN).

Here’s a solution – build yourself a Windows 8 App Dev lab using Windows Azure. No local hardware required!

Before we go into how to do that, a couple of notes:

  • You’ll need a Windows Azure Subscription. Again, if you have an MSDN subscription or a BizSpark account, you can get your subscription through there and get a whole slew of Windows Azure resources (compute hours and services) for FREE for as long as you are an MSDN subscriber. If that’s not you, you can always go for the 90-day FREE trial. Once the trial is over, you can then decide whether you want to continue using your dev lab in the Cloud.
  • You’ll want a Windows Store Developer Account. Granted, not required for learning and testing purposes, but: a) If you have an MSDN Subscription, DreamSpark account (for students registered in select, accredited, post-secondary educational institutions) or BizSpark account (for startups), you get a free 1 year membership anyway, so why not activate it?! Just login to your MSDN, DreamSpark, or BizSpark portal and follow the instructions for getting your Windows Store membership activated. If you don’t have any of those subscriptions, you can sign up for a 1 year membership today for only CAD $49. After all, if you’re going to build apps, surely you’ll want to publish them for others to enjoy (and maybe even pay for…).
  • This will work. The instructions that you’ll read through talk about Windows Server 2012 rather than Windows 8. Don’t stop reading thinking that the information is wrong! Continue through and you’ll see that this configuration will work.

Let’s get to it

Now, with those out of the way, we can actually get going. Click here to go to Keith Mayer’s Step-by-Step: Building a FREE Windows 8 App Dev Lab in the Cloud with Windows Azure Virtual Machines. Keith is a fellow evangelist and has all of the steps that you need to get you up and running. Keith suggests that the setup time is about 45 minutes, though the instructions feel like it would be longer. Don’t worry, there’s just a lot of good explanations of what’s going on so you learn about Windows Azure Virtual Machines in the process of setting up your lab. You can also learn more about Virtual Machines in these Virtual Workshops: Cloud Variations and Migrating Apps to the Cloud.

A Special Note on Exercise 4

Exercise 4 is invaluable! Make sure to take advantage of Windows Azure’s on-demand infrastructure to give you the environment that you need when you need it, but allow you to not spend unnecessary monies by taking the environment offline when you’re not building or learning how to build apps.

Developer Movement

180x150_DM_CDC_v1You started reading this post because you were interested in building a Windows 8 App dev lab, and presumably a Windows Store (8) app, or at the very least, learning how to build one. But since you’ve already gone through the effort of getting your account, subscription, and lab environment, take it a step farther – sign up (if you haven’t done so already) for the Developer Movement (signing up already gets you points to get rewards) and complete one or more Windows Azure labs. Not only will that give you more information and help on how to build a backend for your (potentially) future application, but you’ll accumulate points for simply completing labs.

So now those pain points are out the of the way. Go build and learn!

Photo credit: VinnyPrime. Additional thanks to Keith Mayer for putting together the instructions.