Tag Archive for winrt

2014 Predictions

I hope that you have all had an awesome New Year’s Eve! I’ve decided that I’ll start off 2014 by making a fool of myself by trying to make some predictions for the tech industry for the new year. This is not a what you will see list, but nor is it a what you won’t see one; in reality, I am trying to focus more on trends than anything else. Overall, 2014 is looking to be a transition year rather than a real game-changer. This is in no way a bad thing and makes sense for where we are in what is usually a twenty year tech cycle; it is important to remember that the mobile revolution is not even half way done and there are still a lot of incremental advancements that need to be made in that area before it can be considered complete. Still, this article will not focus on mobile exclusively but will rather jump around with no other aim than what I find interesting.

Docker: Docker is the darling of the developer community right now and for good reason — it solves a problem that (outside of the BSD community) hasn’t really been properly addressed. There is however a risk of certain segments of the community drinking a little too much of the Koop-Aide and using Docker in ways that it wasn’t intended to be used; just think about what we saw with Rails a few years ago and the hype surrounding that and you will have a good idea of what I am concerned with. Still, at the end of the day Dockery is going to be a major tool in a lot developers’ (including this one’s) toolboxes for 2014 and probably beyond.

Windows 8: In the consumer market, Windows 8’s RT offering is in a lot of trouble — that is undeniable at this point. Windows Phone suffers much the same fate as Windows RT, though Windows Phone does enjoy a good holding in South America and some other parts of the world. Microsoft has already hinted strongly that they plan to merge WinRT and Windows Phone into one mobile operating system alla iOS. This is a great Idea but is several years too late. It also undermines the “one Windows” pitch that Microsoft has been making for Windows 8 over the last few years. In 2014, Microsoft will still be dealing with the fallout of their bumbling launch and marketing of Windows 8.

Azure: Azure has grown far beyond Windows in the cloud and at the close of 2013 is a rival to Amazon Web Services and pretty much every other cloud offering. I’ve used Azure several times myself over the year and am pretty impressed on the whole; there were some bumps in the beginning and middle of the year, but these have largely been addressed and it looks like Microsoft has some ambitious plans for Azure in 2014. Over the last month or so something called Midori has been leaking out of Microsoft and, though the pundits seem to think it is something to do with Windows on the client-side, my bet is that this is some sort of evolution of Microsoft’s cloud offerings. Either way, 2014 is going to be a good year for Microsoft in the cloud and for Azure.

Mac OS X: Twelve months ago it looked like OS X was veering dangerously toward an iOSification that would have proven intolerable for professional users. With Mavericks however Apple has found a good balance between their desire for control and the reality that the pro-market has been driven to OS X due to its being a UNIX system that has a late vendor for support and an attractive user interface. Despite the apparent back peddling, it is important to note that Apple has gotten one major change in the OS and managed to implement it in a way that is both useful to the average consumer and acceptable to the pro users — this feature is called Gatekeeper. In Mavericks, Gatekeeper does not allowed unsigned applications (to sign an application one needs to be an approved Apple developer) to be installed on the system by default. The key is that this is a default that any sophisticated user can change. However, I must admit that I have kept this default. Going forward, Apple’s belief in signed applications (or perhaps some slightly watered-down version of it) makes a lot for sense for the future of computing and I actively support refusing to install unsigned applications from untrusted sources. If the current path holds, Apple will be balancing making OS X simpler for average users and new users who came over due to the halo effect of iOS while balancing the needs of the professional user market.

Ubuntu / Linux: Canonical has done an amazing job of sullying the Ubuntu name over the 2013 and has done little more than make a fool of themselves with their naïve attempt at breaking into the mobile space. Ubuntu will still be a very popular desktop Linux operating system among new Linux users and will continue to be a major player on the server-side. Canonical the company however will fail to monetize their offerings in any significant way. The only ray of hope would be some sort of re-focusing of the company to be an enterprise focused organization much like Red Hat. Even in that case, Canonical will not be able to be a true challenger to Red Hat in 2014 and it is unlikely that they will even decide to try. The continued flailing of Canonical will contribute to a “brain drain” of passionate and talented Linux enthusiasts out of the Ubuntu community and into other Linux communities. Another side of effect this is that desktop Linux will continue to be the proverbial tempest in a teapot that it has always been. This internal discord will guarantee that 2014 will not be the year of the Linux desktop in any significant way.

That’s it! Those are my foolish predictions for 2014 — foolish as they may be, I am pretty confident that most of them will be, if not correct, then on the right track. I know they are not earth shattering and basically boil down to 2014 will more or less maintain the status quo. In a way, that’s a good thing. If we are constantly reinventing new technologies and never refining the technologies we are already have, then we will always be using unstable and half baked first generation technology. Have a happy new year and feel free to comment on Twitter.

Programming Pitfalls: Windows 8 & VS 13

PitfallIt will come as no surprise to anyone who has been following this site for a while that I’ve been doing a bit of Windows 8 development. Like many developers moving over from another platform, I have some concerns about XAML and the development philosophy that it seems to promote, but that’s not the pitfall I hit this time. No, the trap I fell into is far more sinister….

You see I had opened Visual Studio 12 and got a notification that there was a new version of Visual Studio coming out and if I wanted to take advantage of all of the new goodness in Windows 8.1, I’d need to download it via MSDN. Like a good little code monkey, I did just that and made a fussy coffee while I waited for download and install to finish.

Once the install had finished I opened Visual Studio 13 and created a C# / XAML metro app. So far so good. No errors or warnings of any kind where displayed. On the whole, I am pretty happy with the workflow in 13 and got the app done in just about a week — it was just a proof of concept.

Now comes the tricky part: deployment. After going through the ridiculous proces of explaining to a non-tech person that they have to run a PowerShell script to run the archive Visual Studio produces, all seemed to go well — the first stakeholder was happy and passed it on to someone else. Then came the issues. For some reason the app would run on some devices and not others.

After a few frantic hours of search-fu, Stack Overflow browsing, and digging through the chaos that is the MSDN developer forums, I had a theory. Was it possible that all the devices that the app ran on had been updated to 8.1 and the ones it didn’t work on were still on 8? If so, there surely would be a menu or XML attribute in the App Manifest that I could change the minimum version to 8.

I was right on the first point and kind of right on the second. It turns out that the app could not be run on 8.0 devices as built and there is an option in the manifest to change the version. Unfortunately, in VS 13, you can’t change the version number. My suspicion was confirmed — Visual Studio 13 did not support building for Windows 8.0. Well, that’s not exactly right either. It turns out that Visual Studio 13 will build a Windows 8.0 app but will not create one — that means that you’d need to create the project in VS 12 but could move over to VS 13 later. I ended up having to create a new project in VS 12 and copying the code over into that new project. The bottom line is that this feels like a ham-fisted attempt on Microsoft’s part to force adoption of the 8.1 APIs and left me with a bad taste in my mouth. At this point, I am sticking with VS 12 until all of my projects no longer require 8.0 support but, frankly, this problem just shouldn’t exist.

Questions? Comments? Find me on Twitter.

Blue == IBM

azure-logoMicrosoft has been having a bad time in the consumer face for the last few years — they’ve failed to jump on the mobile train in any significant way and have tried to modernize Windows but face a lot of resistance from users and pundits. Personally, I like Windows 8; the changes in 8 were bold and necessary to bring Windows into the current day, though it does still feel a bit stodgy. Windows 8’s next update (Blue) is, however, a step in the wrong direction.

Sure the (relevant) changes in Blue are relatively small — bringing back the start button and allowing boot to desktop — but these changes show the core problem with Windows ever being a successful consumer brand — the enterprise market. Microsoft makes a ton of money in the enterprise space and (naturally) they do not want to upset some of their best customers. Though those changes might sound small, they are made with the sole purpose of placating enterprise customers who fear having to “train” their users; as an aside, I have personally seen enterprise office workers pretend to not how to do something in Office to avoid doing a task or delay other work functions and, in general, it has been my experience that many IT departments provide far too much “training” when a simple video course would suffice.

Even if the changes, somehow magically avoid the mythical training IT departments keep crying about, this move sense the wrong message to the consumer market and any developers who might have supported Windows 8 in that space; if Microsoft made these concessions will they make any more? given the sales numbers of WinRT it seems like a matter of time?

Unfortunately, in this age of iDevices the bar for a consumer product is significantly higher and users seem to want something a bit flashier to use on their off time. Meaning that developers need the platform to shed the legacy and be something new something flashy something other than Windows. Put a bit more simply, Microsoft has to learn how to say “no” to the enterprise. Unfortunately, Microsoft has shown its priorities and maybe it is time for it to just become the IBM knock-off that we all know it will.

Questions? Comments? Dogmatic rage? Find me on Twitter and Google+. This post was brought to you by Code Journal and Fingertip Tech, INC.


I Like Windows RT

azure-logoWindows RT is good.There is said it.Sure it doesn’t have a lot of apps and has some serious branding issues, but it’s a good system and a worthy competitor to iOS and Android… or at least it would be if the market would give it a chance. There are reasons that the market is less than enthusiastic for the platform: some of them valid others not so much. Let’s go through them.

Platform Lock-in aka Apps: It’s tough to convince someone to move platforms when they have made a (potentially) sizeable financial investment in another platform and its apps. Also, developers (myself included) have been dragging their feet when it comes to developing for the platform, so there is a pretty good chance that there will be an app that you really love from another platform but can’t get on Windows RT. Data lock-in can be another major lock-in factor, since migrating data between platforms can be challenging if at all possible — try moving app data out of iCloud.

Bad Marketing: Fine, so I teased this one in the intro, but it is a really big issue. I still  can’t successfully explain Windows RT to my non-techie relatives. Sadly, Microsoft insists on using that Windows brand for a product that, though it shares a software core with true Windows, is different in a number of significant ways — chief among them is the fact that Windows RT cannot run traditional Windows applications. Also,  what exactly does a group of dancing university students and other random folk have to do with consumer electronics?

Lack of Devices: Other than the Microsoft Surface RT and (my Windows RT device of choice) the Asus Vivo Tab RT, there really aren’t a lot of good Windows RT devices widely available on the market.

Microsoft: For whatever silly reason there is a vocal group of technorati that write off anything from Microsoft. I know there have been some issues in the past and Microsoft’s current campaign to compel Android manufacturers to pay royalties for patents that Android supposedly violate — I agree this is a scummy business practice but has nothing to do with Windows RT itself.

Yes, I like Windows RT and yes, there are legitimate issues with the platform, but, still, if you give it a fair shake, you might find that there is a bit more there than you initially thought.


Programming Pitfalls: WinRT MediaElement URL Scheme

I’ve been doing a good deal of C# WinRT development recently and for the most part it hasn’t been bad. This week, however, I found a pitfall that is not only so simple it’s silly but also managed to waste an hour or so of my time. WinRT has a class called MediaElement that allows you to play different types of media using Window’s built in media engine.

As you might expect, instances of MediaElement take Uri’s for their source media.  So, let’s say you want to play a video from your app’s bundle — perhaps an introductory video or something like that. You might try:

// I am assuming you created a MediaElement called "player" in your XAML
player.Source = new Uri("/Appname/Assets/Media/Video.wmv" UriKind.Absolute);

Sadly, that will crash every-time. The good news is that your logic is fine, but the bad news is that you are missing a silly implementation detail of how Microsoft has decided to refer to in bundle URL’s.  To make that code work, you simply need to make one small change:

// I am assuming you created a MediaElement called "player" in your XAML
player.Source = new Uri("ms-appx:/Appname/Assets/Media/Video.wmv" UriKind.Absolute);

That’s it. Clearly, there is a little bit of magic here… hence the need for the prefix, but it works and is the prescribed way to do this according to MSDN. Hope that helps someone. Questions? Comments? Find me on Twitter and Google+. This post was brought to you by Code Journal and Fingertip Tech, INC.

Review: Asus Vivo Tab RT

AsusCoder Radio listeners will know that I recently got a new tablet to add to my growing collection of devices: Asus’ Vivo Tab RT. Android fans will take a look at this and be reminded of the Transformer Prime and for good reason — the Vivo Tab and Prime share some common components, most notably the case and they are both designed to be used with their (depending on your retailer) bundled keyboard dock. Overall, my experience has been pretty good.

The Good: Like its Android cousin the Vivo RT holds a charge for a little over a day under normal usage, so power management isn’t something you are going to need to worry about much. The keyboard dock is phenomenal and I find myself replying to fast e-mails, coding small scripts, taking notes,  and editing blog posts on the Vivo all of the time. In almost every case, it has become the device I grab to do some quick typing. The app selection is weak — there is simply no debating that point. However, the Windows RT ecosystem is still new and there are some standout apps on the platform: Tweetro+ and Notepad RT have become two of my most commonly used RT apps. On the games side there is, as on iOS and Android, a lot of junk, but the good games are simply incredible. The killer feature for game developers targeting the Vivo and Windows RT as a whole? Xbox Live achievements. Rocket Riot 3D is a great example of one such game and has fast become a favorite of mine.

The Bad: Despite the hours I have put into Rocket Riot and a few other games, the Vivo is in many ways a work device at its heart. Reading any sort of longform content is awkward due to the width of the device. Additionally, though the screen is adequate, it does leave something to be desired for long form reading when compared to the “retina” iPad. The app ecosystem, though it has its gem, is weak and is likely to stay that way for a while. The trend seems to be that developers who are interested in the platform are just re-releasing titles from other platforms (iOS mostly). I did run into one hardware issue during my usage of the device; if I detach the keyboard while apps are in the foreground the device seems to kernel panic (for lack of a more accurate term) and I have to manually restart it via the power button. Finally, Office works well but feels a bit awkward as does the entire desktop side of the device. I find myself wishing that the Office team had done a scaled down port to “Modern UI” (the UI formerly known as “Metro”) and kept the user experience pure.

Overall, Asus has done an admirable job and most of the issues I’ve experienced are with Windows RT and caused by how new the platform is not by any defect in the device.  If you are interested in a Windows RT tablet, I recommend you look at this one before blindly purchasing a Surface. Questions? Comments? Find me on Twitter and Google+. This post was brought to you by Code Journal and Fingertip Tech, INC.