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Microsoft Make Xamarin Tools Free

By Steve Ives, Posted on March 31, 2016 at 8:49 am

One of the big news items from today’s Keynote at the Microsoft Build conference is that the Xamarin tools, which allow .NET developers to create fully native apps for the iOS, Android and Windows Universal platforms with a single code base, will in future be bundled for free with Visual Studio. Microsoft purchased Xamarin in February 2016 and since then a lot of developers have been waiting with baited breath to find out what would change, and now we know. Exciting news if you want to develop mobile applications.


Microsoft Release Visual Studio 2015 Update 2

By Steve Ives, Posted on March 30, 2016 at 10:25 pm

Today, amongst many other things, Microsoft announced the release of Visual Studio 2015 Update 2. We wanted to let you know that if you are doing Synergy .NET development with the current Synergy 10.3.2 beta version then it’s OK to apply Update 2. But if you’re running the 10.3.1 release of Synergy (or an earlier version) you should not install Update 2 just yet. We are currently finalizing and will soon release a hotfix for Synergy 10.3.1 to that will add support for Visual Studio 2015 Update 2, but for now you should stick with Update 1.


Breaking News … a New Life for OpenVMS?

By Steve Ives, Posted on July 31, 2014 at 4:15 pm

It seems like there is new hope for those organizations still running OpenVMS, after HP recently announced a partnership with a company called VMS Software Inc. (or VSI). There is now talk of adding support for Intel’s Itanium “Poulson” chips by early 2015, as well as the upcoming “Kittson” chip. There is talk of new versions of OpenVMS, and even mention of a possible port of OpenVMS to the x86 platform.

More information here:

http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9250087/HP_gives_OpenVMS_new_life


Microsoft Surface

By Steve Ives, Posted on June 18, 2012 at 8:01 pm

Get ready … here comes the big push! Microsoft today announced a new Windows 8 based tablet platform that they are calling “Microsoft Surface” (strange choice of a name, they already had a product with that name and it was literally the size of a table!), and they are boldly claiming that it will rival the almighty iPad. But then again they’d have to say that, otherwise people probably wouldn’t pay much attention!

surfaceDetails are still somewhat “sketchy” but it appears that there will be two initial models, the “Surface for Windows RT” which uses an NVIDIA ARM processor, and the thicker and heavier “Surface for Windows 8 Pro” tablet which uses an Intel Core i5 (Ivy Bridge) processor and not surprisingly will include a significantly larger battery.

You can find Microsoft information about the new device here, and Engadget have a pretty good write-up that addresses the differences between the two models which you can find here.


LinkedIn Passwords Hacked

By Steve Ives, Posted on June 6, 2012 at 7:27 pm

It is being widely reported today that password information from the social network site LinkedIn has been compromised. It is currently unclear at whether matching username information (email addresses) has also been compromised.

I STRONGLY recommend that LinkedIn users change their passwords as soon as possible. And if you are in the habit of using the same password on multiple web sites, many of which use an email address as a username, then I would recommend that you change your password on those other sites also.


Windows 8 Release Preview Available Now

By Steve Ives, Posted on May 31, 2012 at 11:42 pm

If you hadn’t already heard, Microsoft today announced that the Windows 8 Release Preview is now available for download. As I talked about in my Introduction to Windows 8 session at the DevPartner Conference in Chicago, my colleagues and I are strongly urging all Synergy developers who build and deploy Synergy applications on Windows to download the release preview now and start testing your installations and applications.

If you attended my session you will know that there are some significant changes in Windows 8 that developers need to be aware of, and we want to help our customers to avoid any potential problems when Windows 8 starts shipping.

As well as the new operating system there is also a new version of the .NET Framework (4.5) which is an “upgrade” to Framework 4.0. This upgrade will be delivered to systems via Windows Update, and replaces the 4.0 version. We have already encountered problems with several existing .NET applications (not just Synergy .NET, just .NET generally) and we strongly advise you to test your .NET applications on Framework 4.5 also.

This version of Windows 8 is likely to be fairly close to whet the final released version will be, but Microsoft have already stated that they are still developing in some areas. If things go “as normal” then we might expect the final RTM (Release to Manufacturing) versions in around two months time, but no guarantees of course! Microsoft have also publicly stated that they are in good shape for a final release well in time for the 2012 “holiday season” … presumably they have big ideas about Santa Claus delivering lots of Windows 8 ARM-based tablets this year … we’ll have to wait and see how well that works out!

You can get more information and download the Windows 8 Release Preview here:

http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows-8/release-preview

By the way, if you’re more interested in the server version of the O/S then the Windows Server 2012 Release Candidate is also available for download now:

http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/evalcenter/hh670538.aspx?ocid=&wt.mc_id=TEC_108_1_33

We’re still in conference mode here at Synergex, but once the UK conference in York is out of the way I’ll write more about the changes in Windows 8, and provide more information about what you need to know before your customers start buying Windows 8 systems.


Are you ready for Windows 8 and Visual Studio “11”?

By Steve Ives, Posted on May 15, 2012 at 10:59 pm

Microsoft has recently announced that the Release Candidates of both Windows 8 and Visual Studio “11” will be made available during the first week of June, 2012. Are your applications ready?

The annual Synergex DevPartner Conferences are just around the corner, and will present a wealth of valuable information that Synergy developers need to be aware of in order to deploy apps on these new platforms. It’s not too late to sign up, so don’t miss the opportunity.


Microsoft Announce Windows Store Details

By Steve Ives, Posted on December 9, 2011 at 12:49 pm

Since the //BUILD conference in September many developers have been eagerly awaiting the details of how the new “Windows Store” will operate. The Windows Store will be the primary mechanism by which Windows 8 users will find and acquire Windows Metro-Style Apps.

In addition to the information provided during the event, a new BLOG called Windows Store for Developers was also launched. The BLOG will be worth watching if you’re interested in building and deploying Metro apps.

By the way, if you’re wondering what the time-line looks like on the Windows Store, and on Windows 8 generally, at the end of the video Microsoft confirmed that the Windows Store will open at the same time as the Windows 8 Beta is released, which will be in Late February of 2012.


Windows Reimagined

By Steve Ives, Posted on September 14, 2011 at 12:18 am

Well, all I can say is “WOW”! The first day of the Microsoft BUILD conference is over, and it’s been a LONG day, and it’s been a BUSY day, and it’s been an EXCITING day. Wow!

I’m buzzed … and I’m really quite surprised by that statement. I arrived in Anaheim a little over 24 hours ago, and to be quite honest I was a little skeptical about the whole thing. As you may know from a couple of recent posts, I had started to do some research about what Windows 8 might mean to Synergex, and to our customers, and to our customers customers … and to be quite honest I had more questions than answers. I was more than a little concerned that Microsoft were all set to try to change the Windows world … which they are … but perhaps with less than the amount of (in my opinion) required consideration for existing customers, and applications, and technologies, and tools.

Specifically, I was concerned that there was a lot of talk about HTML5, and of CSS, and of JavaScript … but very little talk about XAML, and C#, and third-party languages like Synergy .NET, and so on. I was concerned that Microsoft were set to not only reimagine Windows, but also reimagine all of the development tools that are used to build Windows applications.

But … big sigh of relief … from me and several thousand other people in the room … although there is a definite emphasis on new development tools which will soon be available within the Microsoft development toolset, i.e. extended support for tools like HTML5, CSS and JavaScript,  there is also a consistent message that existing .NET toolsets are still completely valid and will continue to be so.

On the platform side … WOW! Most of the information to date has centered around videos of demos dating back to early June, and those demos were pretty impressive, Well, I can tell you that things have moved on quite significantly since then, and although Windows 8 is still only in a “Developer Preview” (i.e. pre-beta) state … it’s looking REALLY GOOD!

Of course there are bugs, of course there are glitches, but on the whole people at this conference are pretty excited about what is coming. And that includes the four Synergex employees that are here … after a long day at the conference, and a pretty good stint in the bar afterwards, we’re bouncing ideas around, and coming up with all of these “what if’s”, and seeing the real possibility of Synergy developers being able to fully participate in these exciting new technologies.

Of course some of the reason for this is as a direct consequence of the tens of thousands of man hours of work that have been invested in the various Synergy products in recent years. But also it is with the realization that there is more work still to be done, because the goal posts just got moved in a fairly significant way. But … because of where we know we are now, where we now know we need to be actually doesn’t seem that far away … WOW!

There are exciting times ahead … there are challenges also, but I firmly believe that we’re on the right track.

If you’re interested in the future of Windows then I would strongly recommend that you watch the keynote speech from todays conference, you can find it and many other interesting videos here:

http://www.buildwindows.com

By the way, I am writing this post on my new Samsung Windows 8 “Slate” PC. Those who know me would tell you that I develop on Windows, and Unix, and Linux, and OpenVMS … but I’m an Apple guy at heart. I have an iPhone, and an iPad, and a couple of Macs … and I LOVE those things. But … I think that Microsoft Windows 8 might just change the world. It’s an operating system for the PC, and that PC might just be a Slate (tablet). The point is that today I was convinced that the best of both worlds really can be built into one operating system that can run equally well on different types of devices. I LOVE my iPad but I can’t run hundreds of thousands of existing desktop apps on it, and despite good intentions iOS is jus WAY too restrictive. What Microsoft showed us and gave us today is really cool … it’s a tablet, but it’s also a PC … WOW!


Windows 8 and Screen Resolution

By Steve Ives, Posted on September 8, 2011 at 4:10 pm

If you’re thinking of purchasing a new laptop, or a new flat-panel monitor for your desktop PC, you might want to think a carefully about the resolution of the screen that you select. Because if you’re purchasing new hardware now, you’re likely to want to run Windows 8 on that hardware before the end of its useful life.

According to early information from Microsoft, both the resolution and aspect ratio of the screen will become more important if you want to be able to take advantage of all of the new features available in the new Metro UI.

For the best experience with Windows 8, and in order to be able to take advantage of all of the new Metro UI features, you need a wide-screen with a 16 x 9 aspect ratio and a minimum pixel resolution of 1366 x 768. If your system meets or exceeds these specifications then you should be in good shape, and most will.

However, if your display does not have a wide-screen aspect ratio then you won’t be able to use all of the features of the Windows 8 Metro UI. Specifically the “Snap” feature which allows two “tailored” metro applications (or one tailored application and the traditional Windows Aero desktop) to be docked side-by-side will not be available. By the way, the term tailored application seems to be what Microsoft are using to refer to apps designed to take advantage of the Metro UI under Windows 8. I can’t help wondering if the choice of this term is to make us lowly software developers think that we just need to do a little “tailoring” here and there to support the new UI … in the same way that cell-based applications had to be “tailored a little” to move to Windows under UI Toolkit! Time will tell I guess.

By the way … don’t confuse the windows 8 “Snap” feature with another feature that they introduced in Windows 7 called … “Snap”!!! Although similar, they are not the same thing. Note that the Windows 7 desktop snap feature will still work on the traditional desktop, even if your system doesn’t support the Windows 8 Snap feature. All very confusing!

Finally, although uncommon some netbook PC’s are equipped with displays with less than 768 vertical pixels (e.g. 1024 x 600). Apparently displays this small will not support the new Metro UI at all, although the traditional Windows Aero UI will still work on these systems.

This information was taken from a video of a Microsoft event for various hardware partners which was held during the Computex 2011 in Taipei during early June 2011. If you’re interested in the full video, I’ve embedded it below.


Building Windows 8

By Steve Ives, Posted on August 29, 2011 at 1:50 pm

As Microsoft’s new Build Windows conference draws ever closer the rumor mill about what the focus of the conference will be is gathering momentum. This is due in no small part to the fact that with the conference only two weeks away there is still no published agenda. But that doesn’t seem to have deterred people from attending, I would estimate that there are generally over 10,000 delegates at these events, and this conference has been sold out since early August!

That being said it’s not too hard to figure out from the name of the conference that the focus will be on the next version of the Windows operating system, which Microsoft have “code named” Windows 8! What might be a surprise to a lot of people however is the scale of the change that is on the way next year, because from all available information it’s looking like the default Windows 8 experience will be VERY different from anything that Windows users have experienced in the past.

This suspicion was confirmed recently when Microsoft posted a video entitled “Building Windows 8 – Video 1” on one of their development team blogs. The video was also uploaded to YouTube, and I’ve embedded it in this post … take a look:

As you can see the default Windows 8 experience is very different, and is sure to bring some new challenges for developers who want to deploy applications that take advantage of the new capabilities of the platform. From Microsoft’s demonstration it is clear that traditional Windows applications will continue to be supported, so there is no need to panic, but as software developers we all need to be thinking about how a change of this magnitude could affect our businesses.

For some time now Microsoft has touted WPF and Silverlight as the flagship technologies of choice for building UI’s for .NET applications. But with Windows 8 is all that about to change? The video makes it clear that the primary UI technologies used to build Windows 8 applications are HTML5 and JavaScript, neither of which have a particularly strong toolset presence in Visual Studio 2010. So for many of the developers at the Build Windows conference the main question will be “what’s new in Visual Studio 2012 and .NET Framework 4.5 that will help me build applications for Windows 8?”.

Clearly Microsoft believe that mobile and tablet devices are going to become far more predominant in the future, and are actively planning for this by merging the various operating systems that are used on the various types of computing platforms. And of course they are not alone in this endeavor as Apple’s recent release of OS X Lion also somewhat takes this approach, although not quite to such a radical degree.

Of course there is another group of people who also have a bunch of work to do, and that’s the hardware vendors. If Windows 8 is to be successful one would assume that the default for personal computer and laptop screens will need to change to be predominantly touch-enabled devices. While it is clearly stated in the video that the new UI will work just fine with a mouse and a keyboard, I for one am very skeptical about how WELL it will work in that mode! And of course the availability of the hardware is only a part of the story … we must also consider how long it will take companies to replace existing hardware with new touch-sensitive devices.

Now don’t get me wrong … I’m not suggesting for one minute that there will be a big rush to do so, and I’m absolutely suggesting that a major change of this type could take many years … but for some of us, with certain types of applications, in certain market places, adopting these new capabilities could offer significant rewards.

By the way, I’m not a betting man but I’d lay good money on the fact that there will be a setting to disable the new Windows 8 UI in favor of reverting to Windows 7’s Aero UI, and I’d also be comfortable predicting that many corporations will be doing just that. So again, don’t panic! While the new UI may make for a fabulous demo, and may be a fantastic way of interacting with photos and videos, and browsing the web, will it really provide a suitable platform for presenting business software to commercial users? Actually, in some cases the answer will be a resounding YES … but in other cases the more traditional approach to presenting applications will continue to be far more appropriate.

Of course in order for Synergy developers to be ready for Windows 8, Synergex must be ready first. I will be attending the Build Windows conference, as will three of my colleagues from the Synergy Development team. We’ll do our best to keep you informed about what we learn.

By the way, if you’re interested in keeping track of what’s going on with Windows 8 then a good place to start is Microsoft Development’s Building Windows 8 BLOG. The blog has some interesting articles, and already has several more videos discussing these new features.


“Applemania” and iPhone 4

By Steve Ives, Posted on July 1, 2010 at 1:22 pm

So I finally did what I said I would never do … I set out from home, in the wee hours of the morning, to stand in line for hours in order to buy something!  The venue? … my local AT&T store. The event? … the first in store availability of iPhone 4. In my lifetime I have never done this before, but I figured … what the heck! I grabbed my iPad for a little entertainment while in line and headed out around 3am.

I stopped off at the 24 hour Starbucks drive through on the way there and stocked up with a large black coffee and a sandwich, and by 3.15am I had staked my place in line. I was surprised that there were only around 20 people ahead of me in line, I was expecting more. Apparently the first guy in the line had been there since 7pm the previous evening … a full twelve hours before the store was due to open at 7am!

So how was the wait? Actually it was kind of fun. There were all kinds of people in line, from technology geeks like me, to teens with too much money on their hands, to families, and even a few retired seniors. Everyone was chatting away, and the time passed pretty quickly. It was a beautiful night out, not too cold, not too hot, and before we knew it the sun was rising at 5.30am. By this time the line had grown considerably longer, and by the time the store opened at 7 had probably grown to two or three hundred people! I remember thinking to myself that if the same thing was being repeated at every AT&T store in the country then there were a LOT of people standing in line.

Opening hour arrived and within a few minutes I was walking out of the store with my new phone and heading off for a day in the office.

So … was the new iPhone worth the wait? … ABSOLUTELY! I’ve been using an iPhone 3G for quite a while now and I was already in love with the thing. I’d skipped the whole 3GS iteration of the device, so the differences between my old phone and my new one was … staggering!

The new Retina display, with a resolution of 960 x 640 (vs. the 480 x 320 of earlier models) means that there are four times the number of pixels packed into the same amount of screen real estate. This translates to a screen which looks fabulous, and photos and videos which look considerably better.

Speaking of photos and videos, the upgrade to a 5MP camera and the addition of an LED flash finally make it possible to take reasonably good pictures and videos with an iPhone. There is also a new camera on the front of the phone; it is a much lower resolution (only VGA in fact) but actually that's perfect if you want to take a quick photo, or record a short video and then email it out to someone (especially if you on the new 200MB data plan … but more about that later).

The iPhone 4, like the iPad, uses Apples new proprietary A4 (computer on a chip) silicone, and I must say, the performance gain does seem to be considerable, even compared to the more recent 3GS models. Another benefit of this is that, despite the fact that the new device is smaller than pervious iPhones, there is more room inside for a bigger battery! This is great news, because battery endurance has never been one of iPhones strong points to date.

Of course one of the coolest new features is FaceTime … video calling between iPhone 4 users. I haven’t had a chance to try this out yet, but I’m looking forward to doing so soon. Apparently FaceTime only works over Wi-Fi networks, which is probably a good thing both from a performance point of view, and also potentially a cost point of view … which bring be to the subject of data plans.

In the past, in the US at least with AT&T, all iPhone users had to cough up $30/month for their data plan, and in return were able to use an unlimited amount of data. This was great because it meant that you could happily use your shiny iPhone to the full extent of its considerable capabilities and not have to worry about how much bandwidth you were actually consuming. But now … things have changed!

New iPhone customers now have a choice of two data plans. There is a $15/month plan which allows for 200MB of data transfer, or a $25 plan providing 2GB. AT&T claim that the 200MB plan will cover the data requirements of 65% of all iPhone users, which may or may not be true. Even if you opt for the more expensive 2GB plan you still have a cap, and may need to be careful. Personally I don’t think I’d be very happy on the 200MB plan, mainly because of things outside my control, like email attachments, which iPhone users don’t really have any control of.

I have been trying to find out what happens when you reach your monthly limit, but so far without success. One AT&T employee told me that on reaching your data limit the account will simply be changed for another “block” of data, without any requirement for the user to “opt in”. Another AT&T employee told me essentially the opposite; that network access would be suspended until the user opts in to purchase more data (similar to the way the iPad works). What I do know is that as you draw close to your limit you should receive free text messages (three I believe, at various stages) warning you of the issue. All I can suggest right now is … watch out for those text messages!

For existing iPhone customers, the good news is that your existing unlimited plan will be “grandfathered in” at the same rate that you currently pay, so we can all continue to consume as much bandwidth as we like and not worry too much about it!

Apple seems to have done a pretty nice job with the implementation of the recently introduced iOS 4. The platform finally has multi-tasking capabilities, which some may not immediately appreciate the benefit of, but it just makes the whole user experience so much more streamlined.  Also the new folders feature makes it easy to organize your apps logically without having to flip through endless screens of icons. Pair the advances in the operating system with the significant advances in the hardware of the new device and the overall impact is really quite significant.

Overall, I think Apple did a good job with the iPhone 4, but there are a couple of things I don't like. The main one is … well, with its "squared off" edges … the new device just doesn't feel as good in your hand as the older models. Also, no doubt you'll have heard all the hype about lost signal strength if the device is held in a certain way … well, I must say that it seems like there could be something too that. Unfortunately, when using the device for anything other than making a call, I reckon that most people hold the phone in a way that causes the problem! Of course Apple has offered two solutions to the problem … 1) don't hold the device that way … and 2) purchase a case!

But on balance I think the upgrade was worth it. There are so many cool new things about iPhone 4 but I’m not going to go into more detail here … there are hundreds of other blogs going into minute detail about all the features, and if you want to find out more a good place to start is http://www.apple.com/iphone/features.


Windows Live SkyDrive

By Steve Ives, Posted on June 28, 2010 at 5:13 pm

Have you ever wished there was an easy way to view and edit your documents on different computers, in different locations, in fact … from anywhere, and without having to carry USB thumb drives, or log in to a VPN. Well there is, and it’s free.

For some time now Microsoft have offered a free service called Office Live Workspace, (http://workspace.officelive.com) which went part of the way to solving the problem. Office Live Workspace essentially provides 5GB of free on-line storage, and a web-based portal, which allows you to upload, manage and view your files. It’s primarily designed to deal with Microsoft Office files, although other files can be stored there also.

Office Live Workspace worked pretty well, but it did have some restrictions, which meant that the experience was somewhat less than optimal. For example, when viewing a document it would be converted to an HTML representation of the actual document and displayed in the browser. You do have the option to edit the document of course, but doing so required you to have a recent copy of Microsoft Office installed on the computer that you were using. This is probably fine if you are using your own system, but was likely a problem if you were using a public computer in a hotel or an airline lounge.

On the positive side, if you did happen to be working on a system with a recent copy of Microsoft Office, and had the Windows Live Workspace extensions installed, it was possible to interact with your on-line storage directly from within the Office applications, similar to the way that you work with files on a SharePoint server, and this worked really well.

So, using Office Live Workspace from within Microsoft Office was a good experience, and at least you could get to, view and download your files from any Internet browser.

There is also another interesting product called Windows Live Sync, which kind of approaches the problem from another angle. Sync allows you to synchronize the files in one or more shared folders with one or more other computers. If you add a file on one computer it is replicated, pretty much instantly, to the other computers that “subscribe” to the shared folder. This is a very different approach, because although your documents clearly flow over the network (securely of course), they don’t get stored on network servers. So this is a great solution if you want to be able to edit a document at home, and have it magically appear in a folder at work so you can work on it the next day. But there is no access to the files via a web browser on some other computer.

Enter Windows Live SkyDrive (http://windowslive.com/online/skydrive), which seems to combine the concepts of both Office Live Workspace and also Windows Live Sync … and then adds even more.

SkyDrive is a free service providing 25GB of on-line storage. Like Office Live Workspace it has a web-based UI, which allows files to be uploaded, viewed, downloaded, etc. It is also possible, of course, to edit your files directly using your local Microsoft Office applications. So far so good … so what’s different?

Well, perhaps the main different is that as well as allowing documents to be viewed in your web browser, SkyDrive also integrates Microsoft’s new Office Web applications. So, not only can you edit your Word Documents, Excel Spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations locally, you can also do so directly in the web browser! You can even create new Office documents directly on the server in the same way.

Of course the new Office Web applications are somewhat cut-down versions of their desktop counterparts, in fact they only have a fraction of the capabilities of the full products, but never the less they are very usable, and allow you to do most of routine editing tasks that you likely need to for day to day work on your documents. Remember, this is all for free – pretty cool!

But there’s more … SkyDrive also provides Sync capabilities also. Not for the full 25BG of on-line storage, but there is also a 2GB “bucket” that you can use to setup synchronization of documents between computers … the difference is that the documents are also available on the SkyDrive. So now you can edit your documents locally at home, or at work … on your own computers, but still have access to them via a web interface when away from your own systems. Unfortunately the Office Web apps can’t be used on these synchronized files (hopefully that will change at some point), but you do have access to them from any browser.

By default everything that you upload or Sync through any of these products can only be accessed via your own Windows Live login … but you can setup shares and give others access to all or part of your storage too. And there is specific support for creating shared on-line photo albums too.

Oh, I almost forgot, if like me you use a combination of Windows and Mac computers then all of these products work just great on Mac too. In fact, personally I think the Office Live Workspace experience is actually better on the Mac than the PC! I have just finished testing SkyDrive on the Mac too, including Sync, and it works wonderfully well.

SkyDrive is currently a beta service, but is in the process of transitioning to full production use about now. I’ve been playing with it for a little while now, and it seems to work extremely well. Check it out.


Preparing for Windows Phone 7

By Steve Ives, Posted on June 10, 2010 at 7:59 pm

By Steve Ives, Senior Consultant, Synergex Professional Services Group

Windows Phone 7

Later this year, probably, Microsoft are releasing a new version of their phone operating system, and it’s going to be a BIG change for developers who have created applications for the earlier Windows Mobile operating systems. The new O/S is called “Windows Phone 7”, and although under the covers it’s really still Windows CE, on the surface things will look VERY different.

Perhaps the largest single change will be the user interface of Windows Phone 7 devices, which will be entirely driven by Microsoft Silverlight. That’s potentially great news for existing Silverlight or WPF developers, but will of course mean a total re-write of the UI for developers with existing applications which were essentially based on a subset of Windows Forms.

Using Silverlight will mean that we can expect some dazzling UI from applications, and indeed the O/S and the standard applications provided with it already look pretty cool, but there will definitely be a learning curve for anyone who has not developed Silverlight applications before.

Part of the good news is that the basic tools that you need to develop Windows Phone 7 applications are free. You can download Visual Studio Express Phone Edition and have pretty much what you need to develop applications. At the time of writing though, these tools are in a “pre-beta” form, and as such you can probably expect some issues, and need to update the tools pretty regularly.

There is, in my humble opinion at least, also some bad news, not least of which is that Microsoft seem to have turned the Windows Phone platform into, essentially, another iPhone! While developers can use free development tools (or full versions of Visual Studio) to create their applications (just like with the iPhone) they will have to sign up for a $99 annual “Windows Phone Developer “subscription in order to have the ability to deploy their application to their physical phone for testing (just like with the iPhone).

It will no longer be possible to deploy applications via “CAB file” installations, in fact for anything other than developer testing, the ONLY way to get an application onto a Windows 7 Phone will be via the Microsoft “Windows Phone Marketplace” (just like with the iPhone). When a developer publishes an application to the marketplace they can chose whether the application is free, or is to be charged for. With iPhone development developers can submit an unlimited number of free applications, and many do. With Windows Phone 7, developers can only submit five free applications, and after that there will be a charge to submit further free applications. If an application is submitted for sale, Microsoft will take a 30% cut of any proceeds (just like with the iPhone).

Applications submitted for inclusion in the marketplace will be subject to “testing and approval” by Microsoft (just like iPhone apps), and apps may be rejected if they don’t meet the guidelines set by Microsoft (just like with iPhone apps). This inevitably means that some types of applications won’t be allowed. For example, with the iPhone it is not possible (in the US at least) to use “tethering” to enable you to plug your iPhone into your laptop in order to access the Internet via the cell phone network, and I would imagine we’re now going to see similar restrictions on Windows 7 Phone applications.

iPhone applications execute in a very strictly defined sandbox, and while this does afford a lot of protection for the platform (because, for example, one application can in no way interact with the data of another application), it can also seriously limit what applications can do. For example, on the iPhone it is not possible to save an email attachment (say a PDF file) and subsequently open that PDF file in another application, Acrobat Reader for example. While I understand the protections offered by the sandbox approach, as a user of the device I feel that it restricts too far what I can do with the device. The Windows Phone 7 platform is essentially exactly the same.

Other restrictions in the Windows Phone 7 platform that developers will have to come to terms with are:

  • No access to TCP/IP sockets
  • No access to Bluetooth communication
  • No access to USB connections to a host computer
  • No Windows Forms UI’s
  • No SQL Express access
  • No ability to execute native code via pinvoke (except device drivers, which must be approved by Microsoft)
  • No customization of O/S features (e.g. no alternate phone dialers)

One thing that strikes me as kind of strange is that, apparently, the web browser on Windows Phone 7 will not support Flash, and apparently will not support Silverlight either! The flash thing is kind of expected, both Apple and Microsoft seem to do everything they can to keep Flash of THEIR devices, but not supporting Silverlight (on an O/S where the entire UI is Silverlight) was a surprise … at first. Then I realized that if the browser supported Silverlight there would be a way for developers to circumvent all of the application approval and marketplace restrictions that I talked about earlier!

Another surprise was that, like all versions of the iPhone until iOS 4.0, Windows Phone 7 devices will only execute a single user application at a time. This is one of the main things that iPhone users have complained about through the versions, and Apple just learned the lesson, but it seems that Microsoft have decided not to. For developers this means that it is imperative that applications save their data and state frequently, because the application could be terminated (with notification and the ability to clean up of course) at any time.

One thing is for sure … Microsoft seem to be betting the company on “The Cloud”, and Windows Phone 7 falls straight into this larger scale objective. The vision is that this new device will be a gateway to The Cloud in the palm of your hand. It is expected that many applications may execute directly from The Cloud (rather than being installed locally on the device) and that the device will have the ability to store (and synchronize) data in The Cloud. Apparently these features will be included for free, with a limited (not announced) amount of on-line storage, and presumably fee-based options for increasing the amount of storage available. Of course using things in The Cloud is all well and good, until youfind yourself in a "roaming" situation, paying $20/MB, or more!

On the bright side, Windows Phone 7 devices will be available from a number of different manufacturers, so there will be choice and competition in the marketplace. Windows Phone 7 devices will (in the US at least) be available from a number of cell phone carriers, unlike Apples exclusive deal with AT&T.

While there is no doubt that Windows Phone 7 promises to be a seriously cool new device, and I have no doubt will sell in larger numbers than any of the predecessor Windows Mobile devices ever did, it remains to be seen whether it will have what it takes to be a serious competitor to the mighty iPhone. I can’t help wishing that Microsoft had done at least some things a little bit differently.


PDC09 On-Line Content

By Steve Ives, Posted on November 19, 2009 at 5:15 pm

If you've been reading all about our experiences at PDC09 and would like to watch some of the sessions for yourself, you can!

Videos of many sessions are posted on-line 24 hours after the completion of the actual presentation. You can find the videos here, and many have the associated slide presentations also.


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