Microsoft provides an extensive set of tools and resources to help software developers effectively build Windows Store applications. Even better, all these tools plus guidance for developers, sample code, and SDKs are provided free of charge. Visual Studio Express 2013, Blend for Visual Studio 2013 (included in Visual Studio Express 2013), and other tools are available at no cost, and even Windows 8.1 is available for free as a 90-day evaluation version. With the help of these tools, you'll soon be on your way to building Windows Store applications for Windows 8.1. Let's run down the list of these free tools and resources.

Essential Tools: Windows 8.1 SDK and More

The Windows Store apps section of the Windows Dev Center, shown in Figure 1, is a "one-stop shopping" source for essential tools for Windows 8 platform application developers. From this page you can download the Windows SDK for Windows 8.1 and a number of other tools. The Downloads section of the page also includes links to download sites for Visual Studio Express 2013 for Windows and the Windows 8.1 evaluation version, as well as the site where you can buy a fully licensed version of Windows 8.1.

Figure 1: Windows Store Apps Page Providing Developer Resources

Another feature of the Windows Store apps page is a short video that tells you the basic software you will need to download in order to set up your development environment so that you can build Windows Store apps for Windows 8.1. The video takes you quickly through Windows 8.1 upgrade options, the Visual Studio Express 2013 download process, and downloading the Windows Store application code samples.

The Windows Store apps page also includes links where you can download a number of additional tools and resources. In the Toolkits and extensions section, you'll see the following free tools listed, with links:

  • Windows App Certification Kit. Microsoft requires an app to be certified before it can be listed in the Windows Store. The Windows App Certification Kit, which is included in the Windows 8.1 SDK, lets you test your app for the Windows Store certification program (for Windows 8.1 and Windows 8 apps) and the Desktop App certification programs for Windows 7, Windows 8, and Windows 8.1. You can also self-test your application on Windows RT with the Windows App Certification Kit for Windows RT, which is available as a separate, free download.
  • Visual Studio Extensions for the Windows Library for JavaScript. These extensions use the power of Visual Studio to help you in slinging code for Windows Store apps that require the Windows Library for JavaScript.
  • Multilingual App Toolkit. Localization of language in software can be challenging and burdensome. These tools can help you localize your Windows Store app by providing translation support, translation file management, and editor tools.
  • Remote Tools for Visual Studio 2013. Remote Tools for Visual Studio 2013 enables remote debugging, remote testing, and performance unit testing on computers that don't have Visual Studio installed. This set of tools also enables the installation of a developer license, deployment, and performance profiling of Windows apps to computers that are running Windows 8.x.

Finally, the Windows Store apps page includes a Related SDKs section providing links to four additional SDKs, a sample app pack containing hundreds of Windows Store app code samples, and design assets that provide user experience (UX) guidelines, templates, and wireframes.

The Windows Dev Center

The Windows Dev Center, shown in Figure 2, is Microsoft's online presence for software developers. Its intent is to provide everything you need to start building Windows Store applications. The Dev Center gives you access to hundreds of sample apps, documentation, tutorials, and guidance from Microsoft developer experts.

Figure 2: Windows Dev Center

The Microsoft Developer Network

Microsoft launched a "new" Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) website, shown in Figure 3, in August 2013. Per Microsoft, the site's mission is "enhancing the experience to add better support for the growing number of developers that are embracing Microsoft's platform and technologies for the first time." If you are a first-time developer or a developer coming from another platform, this is the site targeted for you, giving you the resources you need to get started building applications on the Microsoft platform.

Figure 3: MSDN Website

The Windows Assessment and Deployment Kit

The Windows Assessment and Deployment Kit (Windows ADK) helps you measure system performance to ensure that the software you develop and hardware it runs on perform at the highest levels of quality. With the ADK tools, you can evaluate performance of a single computer or multiple computers in a lab environment. The Windows ADK tools are designed to assess a model installation of software and/or hardware before the line goes into large-scale production.

Supporting Windows Store App Developers

Microsoft has long been a leader in providing application development platforms, tools, plumbing, and guidance for developers—and its leadership continues with Windows 8/8.1 app development. You can criticize all you want about the way Windows versions get adopted and the market share of the Windows Store. However, when it comes to providing the resources developers need to become competent at building Windows Store apps, Microsoft deserves praise for a job well done.