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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.


Blunt Pencil?

By Richard Morris, Posted on August 2, 2010 at 10:22 am

I guess all jobs have their perks. This week visiting the office in California, in July, is certainly one of mine. OK, so being stuck in an air conditioned office all week is not exactly lapping up the sunshine, but today is Saturday and I’ve been loaned a bike!  Now, when I say bike, let me explain. It’s kind of like a laid back Harley Davidson Fat Boy with thick tires, wide handle bars and a thick padded seat. That’s where the resemblance with a Harley ends I’m afraid. There is no chrome laden chassis, or thumping V-twin engine, just two pedals, powered by my spindly and pale English legs! It’s certainly no wheelie machine either. Actually it’s quite a cool ride, just totally out of place against all the racing style cycles I found myself among while cycling along the great American River towards Folsom Dam. But I mind not. Those spandex and lycra clad enthusiasts take it far too seriously! I was simply out for a great ride through some stunning scenery.  

So, MP3 player blasting in my ears I boldly set off on my adventure. I made sure it was only the guys on the ultrafast slick racing bikes that overtook me, but the trouble was, everyone seemed to be on a slick racing bike, honest! I still can’t explain how the walkers got past me though. I’m sure they were taking short cuts!

Undaunted, I pedelled on. Some of the downhill sections of the cycle track may well have been enjoyed at slightly more than the 15 mph speed limit – no, not me officer! Some of the rather tight corners were taken pedal down (similar concept as knee down, just at a more sedate pace). Big smiles all round.

And then the inspiration came to me! My MP3 player has a very varied collection of tunes from many different decades and genres. I regularly add new CD’s to see if I like what I hear. One new song had a lyric from which my inspiration was born. “Like a pencil, old and blunt, I’m writing in a bolder font”. I thought, "ya, how true!".  There is nothing worse than trying to be artistic with an old blunt pencil that smudges as you scribe. So, is this what I’m trying to do with Toolkit? Recent posts on Synergy-L continue to highlight the challenges we all have with fonts and colours, trying to make our applications look cool, modern and saleable.

So maybe it’s time to sharpen our pencils, utilise the new capabilities in Synergy 9, and begin to incorporate new slick UI’s into our existing applications. This is my focus for SPC2010 in October. I’ll present the tools and techniques we can all use to implement new, modern interfaces within our existing and proven Synergy applications.

My adventure is over now and I’m back in the office. Now, where is my pencil sharpener?  It’s time to give ChronoTrack a new lick of paint.

Not convinced? Then why not rise to this challenge…  Send me all the code and data required to build and run a sample element of your application and, in return, as long as you’re at the conference, I’ll demonstrate your same code running with a modern UI. And did I mention that it doesn’t have to be a toolkit application?

Glossary of terms. Wheelie: The act of raising the front wheel of your bike, in a controlled manner, while propelling your bike forward at high speed. In my case: always unintentional and usually with painful and expensive results! Knee down: The art of skimming your knee close to the tarmac while engaging a perfectly executed cornering manoeuvre. In my case: falling off!


On The Conference Trail

By Richard Morris, Posted on March 28, 2010 at 9:45 pm

Can you believe it is four months since I posted my first blog from Microsoft TechED in Berlin?  Time certainly does fly by, and so does the changing world of software development.  At Synergex we are committed to ensuring that we keep abreast of advancing technologies, so that we can continue providing expert advice and direction to Synergy/DE developers. 

This week I’m in London, and for the start of the week I can actually say “sunny” London.  Considering the weather we have been having here recently, I can honestly say spring may just be on its way!  I’m in London attending DevWeek 2010.  A software developer’s conference sponsored by, but not presented by, Microsoft.  I say that to emphasise that this is not another TechED.  This conference focuses more on the people using the tools and technologies, the real people like you and me, and not just the products on offer.

DevWeek 2010 is a lot smaller, in attendee numbers, than the TechED conference.  There are hundreds of people here, not thousands.  It’s a lot more personal, and you get much more opportunity to “discuss” (read “ague my case”) with the presenters.  The first session I attended on Monday morning had twelve people in the room, so it’s a lot more intimate.  The content, however, is far from small scale, with some impressive solutions to today’s application requirements.

Monday was a pre-conference day and I spent it delving deep into Silverlight, Microsoft’s XAML/WPF based Web development and application deployment environment.  You can achieve many cool things very easily with just a line or two of code.  Did you know, using Silverlight, it’s possible to deploy your application to appear to run natively on an Apple MAC?

One thing this conference has again emphasised to me is the abstract between software development and design.  And by design I mean the user interface.  All us programmers believe we can “cut it” when it comes to UI development, and many of us can do a reasonable job.  But put today’s design tools into the hands of the UI designers and it’s amazing what they can produce.  And the ease at which you can then implement their “styles” into you application is astonishing!  My first “hello world” foray into UI design was to produce a form with a round ball like object on it, and of course the customary “Press Me” button.  Pressing the button caused the ball to drop from the top of the window to the bottom, and then bounce a couple of times before coming to a rest.  Using Microsoft’s Expression Blend made it far too easy.  It really is a simple case of draw the object (my ball), define the result (ball at bottom of window) and pick a transition (how it gets from top to bottom).  Add my button, and a couple of clicks later, it really does look like the ball is naturally falling (starts slow and speeds up) and then bounces a little as it comes to its final resting place.  And I have not written a single line of code!

OK, So I can hear you thinking “and the use of a bouncing ball is?”  Good question.  Not much, I agree, but the techniques can easily add such a visual edge to you application.  Consider if you created a button style, which you could apply, as a default, to all buttons within your application.  The style could, for example, make the button double in size, including the text, when you hover over it with the mouse, making it easier to read.  Maybe have a circular ripple effect when you press it.  What if the input control (field) on your form that had focus is automatically magnified, giving the user a clearer view of what’s being asked for, without obscuring other areas of the form.   Your options are endless, and from a software developers standpoint – no code changes.  The code to data bind you fields to your Synergy data remains the same, but the look can be infinitely customisable.

Ensuring we structure our UI design correctly, data bind our controls in the XAML and avoid all non-UI related code behind ensures that we can utilise these UI development tools to the full.  We’ll be presenting these cool techniques at this year’s SPC in October, so make sure you’ve booked your place!


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