During the 2020 edition of Build, Microsoft revealed its plan for a multi-platform framework called .NET MAUI. This latest framework appears to be an upgraded and transformed version of Xamarin.Forms, enabling developers to build robust device applications and provide native features for Windows, Android, macOS, and iOS.
Microsoft has recently devoted efforts to unifying the .NET platform, in which MAUI plays a vital role. The framework helps developers access the native API (Application Programming Interface) for all modern operating systems by offering a single codebase with built-in resources. It paves the way for the development of multi-platform applications under the banner of one exclusive project structure with the flexibility of incorporating different source code files or resources for different platforms when needed.
.NET MAUI would bring the project structure to a sole source with single-click deployment for as many platforms as needed. Some of the prominent features in .NET MAUI will be XAML and Model-View-View-Model (MVVM). It will enable the developers to implement the Model-View-Update (MVU) pattern.
Microsoft also intends to offer ‘Try-N-Convert’ support and migration guides to help developers carry a seamless transition of existing apps to .NET MAUI. The performance continues to remain as the focal point in MAUI and the faster algorithms, advanced compilers, and advanced SDK Style project tooling experience.
Let us hear what our experts have to say about MAUI, a framework that holds the potential to streamline cross-platform app development.
Which technology – native or cross-platform app development, is better and more prevalent?
- Francesco: In general, saying “better” is quite difficult. The right choice always depends on the constraints one has, but I think that for most applications “cross-platform” is the only acceptable choice. Mobile and desktop applications have noticeably short lifecycles and most of them have lower budgets than server enterprise applications. Often, they are just one of the several ways to interact with an enterprise application, or with complex websites. Therefore, both budget and time constraints make developing and maintaining several native applications unrealistic. However, no matter how smart and optimized cross-platform frameworks are, native applications always have better performance and take full advantage of the specific features of each device. So, for sure, there are critical applications that can be implemented just like natives.
- Valerio: Both approaches have pros and cons: native mobile apps usually have higher performances and seamless user experience, thus being ideal for end-users and/or product owners with lofty expectations in terms of UI/UX. However, building them nowadays can be costly and time-consuming because you need to have a strong dev team (or multiple teams) that can handle both iOS, Android and Windows/Linux Desktop PCs. Furthermore, there is a possibility of having different codebases which can be quite cumbersome to maintain, upgrade and keep in synchronization. Cross-platform development can mitigate these downsides. However, everything that you will save in terms of development cost, time and maintainability will often be paid in terms of performance, limited functionalities and limited UI/UX; not to mention the steep learning curve that multi-platform development frameworks tend to have due to their elevated level of abstraction.
What are the prime differences between MAUI and the Uno Platform, if any?
- Gabriel: I would also say that, considering MAUI has Xamarin.Forms, it will easily enable compatibility with different Operating Systems.
- Francesco: Uno’s default option is to style an application the same on all platforms, but gives an opportunity to make the application look and feel like a native app; whereas MAUI takes more advantage of native features. In a few words, MAUI applications look more like native applications. Uno also targets WASM in browsers, while MAUI does not target it, but somehow proposes Blazor. Maybe Blazor will still be another choice to unify mobile, desktop, and Web development, but not in the 6.0 .NET release.
- Valerio: Both MAUI and Uno Platform try to achieve a similar goal, but they are based upon two different architectural approaches: MAUI, like Xamarin.Forms, will have their own abstraction layer above the native APIs, while Uno builds UWP interfaces upon them. Again, both approaches do have their pros and cons: abstraction layers can be costly in terms of performance (especially on mobile devices, since it will need to take care of the most layout-related tasks) but this will be useful to keep a small and versatile codebase.
Would MAUI be able to fulfill cross-platform app development requirements right from its launch, or will it take a few developments post-release for it to entirely meet its purpose?
- Gabriel: The mechanism presented in this kind of technology will let us guarantee cross-platform even in cases where there are differences. So, my answer would be yes.
- Francesco: Looking behind the story of all Microsoft platforms, I would say it is very unlikely that MAUI will fulfill all cross-platform app development requirements right from the time it is launched. It might be 80-90 percept effective and cater to the development needs. For MAUI to become a full-fledged platform equipped with all the tools for a cross-platform app, it might take another year.
- Valerio: I hope so! Realistically speaking, I think this will be a tough task: I would not expect good cross-platform app compatibility right from the start, especially in terms of UI/UX. Such ambitious developments improvise and are gradually made perfect with accurate and relevant feedback that comes from the real users and the community.
How much time will it take for Microsoft to release MAUI?
- Gabriel: Microsoft is continuously delivering versions of their software environments. The question is a little bit more complex because as a software developer you cannot only think about when Microsoft will release MAUI. You need to consider when it will be stable and with an LTS Version available. I believe this will take a little bit longer than the roadmap presented by Microsoft.
- Francesco: According to the planned timeline, MAUI should be launched in conjunction with the November 2021 .NET 6 release. This timeline should be respected, but in the worst-case scenario, the release will be played and arrive a few months later. This is similar to what had happened with Blazor and the 3.1 .NET release.
- Valerio: The MAUI official timeline sounds rather optimistic, but Microsoft seems to be investing a lot in that project and they have already managed to successfully deliver big releases without excessive delays (think of .NET 5): I think they will try their best to launch MAUI together with the first .NET 6 final release since it would be ideal in terms of marketing and could help to bring some additional early adopters.
The launch of Multi-Platform App UI (MAUI) will undoubtedly revolutionize the way developers build device applications. Developers can look forward to smooth and faster deployment and whether MAUI will offer platform-specific projects or it would be a shared code system, will eventually be revealed. It is too soon to estimate the extent of MAUI’s impact, but it will surely be worth the wait and now with MAUI moving into the dotnet Github, there is excitement to see how MAUI unfolds across the development platforms and how the communities receive and align with it. With every upcoming preview of .NET 6 we can expect numerous additions to the capabilities of .NET MAUI. For now, the developers are looking forward to the “dotnet new” experience.
About the authors
- Gabriel Baptista is a software architect who leads technical teams across a diverse range of projects for retail and industry, using a significant array of Microsoft products. He is a specialist in Azure Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and a computing professor who has published many papers and teaches various subjects related to software engineering, development, and architecture. He is also a speaker on Channel 9, one of the most prestigious and active community websites for the .NET stack.
- Francesco Abbruzzese has built the tool – MVC Controls Toolkit. He has also contributed to the diffusion and evangelization of the Microsoft web stack since the first version of ASP.NET MVC through tutorials, articles, and tools. He writes about .NET and client-side technologies on his blog, Dot Net Programming, and in various online magazines. His company, Mvcct Team, implements and offers web applications, AI software, SAS products, tools, and services for web technologies associated with the Microsoft stack.
Gabriel and Francesco are authors of the book Software Architecture with C# 9 and .NET 5, 2nd Edition.
Valerio De Sanctis is the author of ASP.NET Core 5 and Angular, 4th Edition