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xfBBQ: Full-Stack Web Development with Harmony Core

By Steve Ives, Posted on June 15, 2020 at 9:00 am

Steve Ives

On Thursday, June 18th we will launch a new series of webinars called the xfBBQ Webinars, and I’m guessing this may require some explanation. So here goes:

What is xfBBQ?
xfBBQ is a browser-based application, designed and created by Johnson Luong, Synergex Software Developer, (with minor input from Jeff Greene, Harmony Core Technical Lead, and Synergex Principal Engineer) to help us plan for our regular company BBQs. The ones that we are NOT currently enjoying because of the COVID-19 pandemic! Generally though, we host around six BBQs outside our office at lunchtime during the summer season, but most of you won’t care about that because you’re not invited 😉!

Who is Johnson Luong?
Johnson is a valuable member of our development team who, since joining Synergex in 2014, has worked on many different parts of the Synergy/DE toolset. Recently he has played a major role in the creation of our Windows installations using the WiX Toolset, while at the same time having made significant personal contributions to the development of the entire Harmony Core framework.

What does xfBBQ do?
The app allows customers (employees) to register for access, then informs them when BBQs are scheduled, and allows them to select from, and customize, various menu selections for each BBQ. For example, for a given BBQ, I might use the app to express my preference for a “medium rare cheeseburger with hot peppers and a well-done dog.” I could even opt for two burgers, or two dogs, or both … but in doing so I may risk the wrath of Samantha, our wellness coordinator! Johnson assures me she doesn’t have a special “back door” into the data, but I’m not convinced!

Anyhoo, the app collates the orders, presenting the BBQ officials (all who lavish in Synergex VIP status, and rightly so) with the required lists of requirements and ingredients for each BBQ event. Yada, yada, yada.

Why did we do this?
Because having developed an awesome (our words, but we’re confident) web-services framework called Harmony Core, customers were asking for real-world examples of how it might be used. And … we had a real-world problem to solve, namely that we really needed to control the amount of burger patties and sausages that we were purchasing from Costco!

Why xf?
Just for fun! Johnson believes that he has now defined the actual meaning of “xf”, but trust me, he has no clue! Until it’s been ratified by Marketing it means nothing, and that process could take years!

But seriously, this webinar series presents to you an end-to-end view of how a modern browser-based application is developed. You will see how the Harmony Core back-end is built, but you have seen that in previous webinars. What is much more important here is the focus on the development of the front-end application that interacts with the Harmony Core service.

This will be a series of four webinars, as follows:

Thursday June 18 @ 9 am PDT
Creating a Harmony Core solution and hooking it up to a new React app.
Register for part one here.

Thursday June 25 @ 9 am PDT
POSTing data in React, and an introduction to Redux.
Register for part two here.

Wednesday July 1@ 9 am PDT
Captchas, batch processing, and other CRUD.
Register for part three here.

Wednesday July 8@ 9 am PDT
User authentication, styling with Bootstrap, and making a React production build.
Register for part four here.

xfBBQ is a browser-based app. It is a single page application, developed using React and Redux, and using appropriate sprinkles of HTML and JavaScript along the way.

We are completely excited that over the last few months we have built up a marvelous following for our Harmony Core webinars, but I’ll be honest, there won’t be much DBL code to see here! Regardless, I encourage all of you to join us for this webinar series, and to stick with it to the end.

If you’re a DBL dev you may not learn much about your own part of the puzzle that is building a modern distributed application. But I promise you, by the end of the process you will have learned a lot about what it takes to pull together all the other pieces of that puzzle. Building a modern, distributed application requires skills in many different areas, and this webinar series touches on many of them.

It is most important that we get your non-Synergy developers to participate in these webinars. Your web devs will be right at home here, but if you don’t have web devs then invite your Windows devs, your iOS and Android devs, and your MacOS devs.

Web services are accessed via HTTP, and pretty much every development language can do that! The perfect target audience for these webinars is anyone that is involved in developing your next-generation apps. It’s not about any one part of the process, it’s about the entire process, end-to-end, and that will require devs with many different skill sets get together, and to work together to create success!


7 UI Design Trends to Make Your Software Stand Out

By Kristen Vogler, Posted on April 16, 2020 at 5:48 am

Kristen Vogler

Create a useful, beautiful, and easy-to-use system

What approach did you take when creating your application? Did you focus solely on functionality and figure you’d worry about the user interface and experience later? Did later never come? Because developers often need to develop or add additional functionality to products quickly, the role design plays in the creation of applications is often forgotten. Don’t make the same mistake. The visual appeal of your application is your first opportunity to make a lasting impact on your users. Let’s take a look at some of the user interface design trends that will allow you to make the most of that first impression and stand out from other applications.

1. Microinteractions

While overlooked by many, microinteractions play an essential role in a user’s experience and are the perfect proof that details really do make the design. You’ll notice these interactions in almost every major app and website you visit. Facebook’s “Like” feature is a great example. Hovering over the Like button will display animated versions of the different types of a “like” a user can give. Microinteractions are subtle and you may not notice them, but if they’re removed, you’ll feel like something important is missing.

Tab bar active animation — Aaron Iker

2. Skeuomorphic Design

Skeuomorphic design refers to the creation of elements in a realistic style. While this type of design was put to rest years ago, the popularity of VR/AR technology is welcoming it back, albeit with a modern twist. When done correctly, the results are absolutely stunning, but you should consider the time, effort, and incredible focus on details needed before diving head first into this trend. The excessive amount of work can make the style not worth it for an application that is constantly changing and evolving.

Skeuomorph investing app dashboard — Jordan Hughes

3. Asymmetrical Layouts

It’s time to release your grip on those perfectly tidy and traditional grid layouts and say hello to overlapping elements. Asymmetrical doesn’t mean random; rather it means you’ve placed your elements in an unusual way that is still aesthetically pleasing. Choose images, text, and other elements that your users will respond to and place them in a way that guides users through your design. You’ll also want to include a generous amount of white space to be successful.

Chef – Asymmetrical Card — Oxygenna

4. Simplicity

Minimalism comes and goes in the design world, but right now it’s in. While not exactly a trend and more of a group of principles to follow, the focus of a simple design is functionality. In this style, you’ll notice bold typography, minimal color palettes, and plenty of white space. Simplicity requires a thoughtful and deliberate approach. Because of the style, there won’t be many, if any, places to hide a design mistake. However, the results are worth it, offering an elegant and high-quality feeling that can be hard to match.

Travel App Home Screen UI Design — Gleb Kuznetsov

5. Responsive Colors

Your branding is important. I’m sure you have a list of fonts, sizes, colors, and ways to handle your logo and other image assets. This isn’t a new trend, but brands are now adopting it more and more. Instead of owning a single color for your brand, allow the color to change in the context of what part of your brand it represents. Try putting together a number of predefined colors that can be assigned to different parts of your environment.

Handoff from marvelapp.com
Prototyping from marvelapp.com

6. Typography

Large text makes a statement. And an interesting change in user interface design is the gradual return of serif fonts. Previously, screen resolution was so low that a font with serifs was considered too difficult to read. With screen resolution improving year after year, that excuse is out the window, opening the door to use thousands of beautiful new typefaces.

Design & Life – Oprah House — Daniel Mcleay

7. Dark Themes

No, not ominous undertones—we’re talking color palette. These themes have been around for years, but when Apple recently added one in their Mojave update, the style took off. The key to designing a successful dark theme? Don’t start with a full black background and white text. Begin with darker grays in the background and lighter grays for text, saving white for something that really needs to pop. A side bonus for this style is that with less bright white to stare at, a dark theme can lessen eye strain for your users. 

Sales Manager Dashboard — Fireart Studio

The best UI trends are not only fun to look at, they also improve the overall experience and usefulness of a product. As more and more brands adopt these trends, they shift from being a trend to a design standard. Take a look at your applications today to see which of these trends you can apply—and then take your interfaces to the next level.

If you want to modernize your UI, Synergex has tools and other resources to help you get there. Learn more about our open-source Harmony Core solution, or contact an account executive to find out how our software development consultants with our Professional Services Group can assist you.


Call to Action for Windows UI Toolkit Developers

By Steve Ives, Posted on February 25, 2020 at 5:06 pm

Steve Ives

In recent months several customers have reported significant slow-downs in their Windows UI Toolkit applications when upgrading to Windows 10 or Windows Server 2016. We’ve been researching this issue, and we believe that much of the slow down resulted from alterations that Microsoft made in the operating system to mitigate the Windows Spectre-Meltdown issues.

In an attempt to mitigate these performance changes, and working in conjunction with one customer that had reported the issue to us, we have been working on various performance optimizations in the Synergy runtime related to low-level window creation, and for the Toolkit file-stack routines when using large lists. The new runtime also has UI improvements related to scaling of fonts on high-DPI monitors, most notably when moving a toolkit application between monitors with different DPI settings in Windows 10. This work is now complete, and we believe it has resulted in significant improvements in performance, which we hope will largely restore previous levels of performance.

We have performed as much internal testing as possible, and the customer we have been working with has also reported good results when testing the new runtime. We would like to be able to ship these improvements in the next Synergy release in the May timeframe, but before we can do that, we need to have several other Windows UI Toolkit developers validate that the changes do not cause any other unforeseen issues in their applications.

What we are asking you to do is to install your application onto a Windows 10 or Windows Server 2016 (or higher) that has Synergy 11.1.1c installed, apply a special runtime patch that we will provide, and test your application. There is no need to re-compile your code; just run your application in the patched 11.1.1c environment and look for any UI issues. You would be looking for any visual anomalies in the UI Toolkit user interface, regions not being painted or cleared correctly, etc.

We believe that our recent runtime changes can deliver significant runtime performance improvements for a lot of users, but because of the significant nature of the internal changes, we need help validating those changes in real user scenarios.

Can you help? If so please contact us as soon as possible, either via Developer Support or through your Synergex Account Representative.


Microsoft Make Xamarin Tools Free

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

Steve Ives

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.


Investing in the look and feel of your applications doesn’t matter…or does it?

By William Mooney, Posted on October 7, 2015 at 10:29 am

Avatar

synergex-blog-image2Years ago I used to say to our direct corporate end-user customers, “You’re lucky. It doesn’t matter what your application(s) looks like because you’re not selling to compete for new business—all that matters is that it works well and meets your business needs.” End-users plugged merrily along, content to focus on functionality and substance, often in the form of a green-screen front end. In fact, many of those customers claimed that a character-based/green-screen application was much more efficient than using a “cumbersome mouse”—especially when it came to data entry. In the 90’s when Windows, GUI, and the like came on the scene our Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) had a different story—to be competitive, the ISVs suddenly had to worry about both how well their applications functioned AND how they looked. People and companies didn’t want to buy applications that weren’t shiny and new with a great user interface (UI)—even if a sophisticated UI didn’t always correlate with a sophisticated application under the hood. It became a game of how flashy can you make it as opposed to how well does it function.

Fast-forward a few years, and now everyone has to play on the same field—ISVs and corporate end-users. In today’s world, even corporate end-users need to make the move to modernization. If they don’t, the next generation of decision makers will. And when that happens, it’s likely the existing, time-proven solution that has been customized and fine-tuned over the past 30+ years, the one that makes the business unique and competitive, the one that has solved—and continues to solve—everyday business issues, will not survive. Yep, this new generation of decision makers will judge the book by its cover and determine the value of the application based on the way it looks and not what it does. It makes sense, because this new generation grew up knowing only great-looking applications—applications that are generally simpler and more discrete in functionality than complete, integrated solutions that touch every part of the organization but appear less shiny and sophisticated.

So, the bottom line is that if your application doesn’t look great, it will be perceived as less than great, and when that new decision maker comes in—it may be too late to save what you’ve spent so many years perfecting. Needless to say, I strongly recommend that all customers invest in modernizing their application(s) with a great looking UI and UX (user experience). As Billy Hollis affirmed at the recent Synergy DevPartner Conference, UX is equally as important. It’s not just the look and feel, but also the experience of the user that’s critical. It’s important to emphasize here too that a great UI/UX design and a high-performing/highly productive solution are not mutually exclusive. Having a well-designed GUI based application can only add to the functionality and power of your solution. So even if you feel your character-based solution is really the best one for your business, it’s rare for the look and feel to be overlooked in favor of substance. I can’t stress enough the importance of making this investment.

A significant benefit of having a Synergy-based application is that you can separate the UI from the logic and data. This means you can use future UIs without sacrificing the years of investment you have put into your business application. While the look and feel is what everyone sees, in reality the business logic is the true value. And once these two are separated, you can extend the life of your application(s) indefinitely, taking advantage of the ever evolving UI trends that come along. Although it may take some effort initially to separate the UI from the back-end, this is the course of least resistance and investment, and it will offer the largest and longest return.

At Synergex, our main focus is to develop solutions to help you advance and leverage your investment to take advantage of the latest modern technologies. In fact, with our recent release of Synergy DBL, we are venturing into the Universal Windows Platform (UWP), the latest UI experience. And while none of us can be certain what UI trends will be popular 10 years from now, just as none of us back in the ‘80s could have imagined what today’s UI would look like, I’m confident that we will be able to help you leverage your back-end and take advantage of whatever the future holds.


Colour my World

By Richard Morris, Posted on March 25, 2015 at 3:28 pm

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Apparently UI design is more than just picking colours for you controls – who would have guessed it.  Now if the Senior Director of Design @ Infragistics is telling you this then I guess it’s time to listen.  I’m all for a good UI design – but in our world sometimes it’s just too easy to take the “take what we have and make do” approach.  If you have a cell-based or even a UI Toolkit screen cluttered with fields, drop-downs, lists etc. then surely that’s what the users want to see in your shiny new app right?  Well maybe, but then you struggle with new prospects because your UI looks, well, wrong.  The functionality of the application beats the competition hands-down, but often it’s not good enough to even get your foot in the door.  And for all you in-house developers who don’t have a system to “sell” – don’t look away now as your users are just as important to keep happy as the next sales prospect.  Imagine if you had to write that cool new app using “notepad” – no intellisence, drag and drop didn’t exist, only one edit buffer available, the list is endless – but in a nutshell you’d leave and go program somewhere where they provided the best tools for you to do your job.  And so it is the same for your users – give them the tools to perform at their best.

And then we come back to the age old problem – ten-key.  You just can’t beat data entry on a cell based system.  While this is generally accepted as true, there are ways to improve the process.  Reduce or in many cases eliminate the chrome around the application (I think the cool term today is “flatten”).  Does every other field have to be a comb-box – why not let the user enter the “known only to them” code and provide the newbies with a clickable button to “find” the one they want – you’ll soon find them entering the code!  Choose a colour scheme that matches the environment. If you application is for office based people then make the screen light and bright – it’s easier on the eyes in a bright open office.  Or maybe your application is being used in a dark control room – no windows or natural sunlight, so make the application darker and milder to reflect this.  Align your controls, prompts and buttons to a gird like structure.  Don’t overdo the font types and sizes.  And of course there is the 1.617 rule!

It’s interesting that many of the sessions this year are more about making your apps look right and not actually making you aps.

 


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