Tag Archives: Microsoft

Visual Studio 2012 and WOWZAPP

I saw the Microsoft WOWZAPP 2012 hackathon event as a real opportunity for Microsoft to engage with developers at grass roots level and convince them that they should spend their time creating apps in VS2012 for the Microsoft Store.  Therefore it was with some excitement that I arrived the other day at my local event.  The coffee and cookies were flowing and the day had a quiet if measured start.  I had been told to come along with my laptop loaded with Windows 8, VS2012 and the examples SDK.  I did this and made sure I didn’t peek at any of the developer resources ahead of the day in order to give myself a one-shot completely immersive experience.  This is it Microsoft – show me what you’ve got.

The WOWZAPP event has its very own W8 app and this can be downloaded and installed via Powershell as it’s not available (slightly surprisingly) through the App Store itself.  The app package then provides an icon on the desktop and some links to resources.  The choice was then up to you how you used these resources to build an app of some kind.  I wanted to write a little HTML5 game so I quickly found the relevant resource and started building.  The resource was fine if hastily assembled and provided good detail and a nice walkthrough of the features of VS2012.  So far so good and within an hour or so I had a working game and could start to play around with.  However I also wanted to see what the examples SDK could show me so I started investigating the C# and C++ samples with a view to getting perspective on other dev techniques.

This is where the WOWZAPP experience starts to get a little thin.  I went back to the WOWZAPP app to try and find some more info and something else to look at in more detail and quickly realise that that is pretty much it.  There is no depth here – a couple of links to marketing and HOWTO websites and you’re on your own for the rest so I resorted to Googling around for tips and tricks for example on how to get my XNA game built and running inside VS2012.  This is something I would normally be doing at home or in the office but somehow I expected something more to be unveiled at the event.  I expected the scales to fall from my eyes and the path to app nirvana to be shown.  I hoped for some tutorials, some walkthroughs, even some linked branded articles from MSDN say that provided clear declarations of expected modes of behaviour and best practice in development for a variety of ‘target apps’.  Yes there was some information on style but more basic information – like for example what VS2012 technology should I pick for which app type might also be good?

As an experienced developer I’m confused and from seeing the selection of apps created on (or prior to) the day I’d say that I’m not the only one.  Simple case solutions work but in VS2012 there is a confusion of technologies crammed under one roof – C# and C++ sit uneasily side by side.  HTML5/Javascript seem a different world.   I’m still not sure how Blend and the XAML world can fit together with the rest.  At times I feel I’ll want to use all of these technologies but as to how they can work together and how this limits my ability to deploy it to a target environment.

 The only way, like so many times before with so many technologies, will be just to try it all out and see what happens.  As soon as I work out the best development model for the app you want to write I’ll be sure to share it.

Microsoft: Putting the User at the Centre

I’ve caught up with some of the Microsoft Build developer conference videos now.  Between the non-jokes about the weather in Seattle being bad but not as bad as it is back East and giving away oodles of hardware to attendees there were some pretty interesting things to come out last week’s meeting.  It was of course an opportunity for Microsoft to show off Window 8 and Windows 8 Phone along with some of the hardware that is available shortly.  A lot has been made of the Microsoft Surface (and touch interfaces in general in Windows 8) and of course WP8 but I think if we can take away something more fundamental about Microsoft from the themes running through this event.

At Build 2012, developers were told they should be excited about Windows 8 and Windows 8 Phone.  Since watching the videos I’ve come away with the idea that developers had better be excited because I believe this generation of software potentially changes everything for the user.  Indeed I’m pretty blown away by the joined up thinking going on in Microsoft land.  What Apple have been hinting at, Microsoft have just said “Screw it, let’s do it”.  Xbox gaming integration, Xbox music (which I love) even Live Tiles are all starting to make sense.  Suddenly I feel like my desktop PC is like an Xbox or like my PS3 – it is a game console with other capabilities.  Except now the sometimes clunky way that games consoles deal with personalisation and network integration is somewhat, hopefully, relegated to the past.

In existing mobile devices we have many apps and platforms providing some form of integration with other services – some of it ok (say iOS Mail for example) and some pretty terrible (too many to mention) – but what is clear is that there has been a lack of systemic thinking by software architects on what constitutes providing a service to the user rather than as a service to another piece of software.  A lack of clear thinking on user bound services has also been compounded by a tentativeness to execute on a totally user-oriented experience.  Microsoft have shortened the pipe between data and user giving less wiggle room, less API elasticity.  This can only be a good thing.  For example I have an iPhone but I’ve not had the need to get involved with iCloud as I don’t have a Mac.  I have Windows iTunes but I still need to plug my iPhone into it to upload my existing music (if I want to avoid buying it again from the Apple store).  Microsoft through Windows 8 is trying to change the linear approach to device management.  Windows 8 wants to better integrate devices that I already own rather than necessarily forcing me to buy new hardware to do cool stuff.  In fact this is where the underlying marketing strategies between the two companies perhaps differ – Apple say you’d better buy the hardware if you want our software to continue to work, Microsoft say you can have some great software which will work on your existing hardware and you can also buy new hardware later if you find it useful.

With Windows 8 and Windows 8 Phone the ability to share my account across devices is implicit.  As Microsoft themselves say – the user is at the heart of the experience – it’s all about personalisation on all your devices but doing this consistently.  While this sounds a lot like they are just paying lip-service to what everyone else has been doing badly already it seems however like they are actually trying to do this thing properly.  The cloud integration is seamless across devices and somewhat surprising – for example I notice I get my file view preferences taken across between W8 PCs without having to specify them on each device.  Of course apps-wise Windows 8 and of course Windows 8 Phone lag far behind and much has been made of the numbers in the various app stores.  What should not be underestimated is the amount of software already there in Windows 8 already doing most of the things you need.  Indeed until you link up your Facebook and your Skype accounts you don’t really understand what Live Tiles are about – but then suddenly you see that the experience is personal, and it’s personal across all devices and I can seriously consider logging into my desktop or my laptop in the same house and now having to worry about having all the documents I need being to hand (if I take advantage of Sky Drive).  I imagine I’ll be thinking twice before renewing my LiveDrive account next time around.

Slow erosion of boundaries between apps and services has been going on for a while but what Microsoft has done has said – ok you want a properly personalised experience on every device?  You can have it.  And not just through Microsoft services – you can have everything in one place and we won’t stop you integrating so the ability to bring Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and undoubtedly many others right on to your new look desktop directly without installing anything from a third party.  You don’t need to worry about putting a pretty picture on your desktop because the pictures are everywhere.

Of course one question that pops up is how this level of integration will work when it comes to security.  The paranoia exhibited by all presenters at Build when they were saying “I’d better lock this as it’s my actual device” is probably as much a testament to how much of their lives are on that device (or at least the services to which it interfaces) as it is to corporate sensitivity.  If all of your accounts are at the mercy of your single Windows Live sign-on then you’d better be very careful with whatever devices have access to it – longer term this could have serious implications for security officers everywhere.

Many other questions still remain of course not least over the newly released Windows Phone 8 SDK.  A requirement on using 64 bit hardware only for developing is a shame and there is a lack of clarity on the purpose of the bundled XNA 4.0 among others.  What is clear however is that with Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 Microsoft have delivered a big bundle of software to play around and have fun.  The results from devs will come in over the next few months to years.  As an enticement there is a stack of engaging hardware to play around with this stuff on.  Putting the user at the centre of the experience is something that only developers can do – Microsoft can only go so far with their intentions – and as the phrase has it, the market ultimately decides.  However I know I can’t wait to get my hands on some proper Windows 8 and Windows 8 Phone hardware to see, and also to try and deliver, the fully integrated experience that people have been waiting for probably since the invention of the Smartphone.  Maybe it won’t be this iteration but by betting this big, Microsoft are getting mighty close.