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 Wednesday, May 14, 2014

We are having this interesting discussion on yammer in Magenic about tech companies and how they compete in the current rapidly changing landscape. Here’s my response to a question about Microsoft’s competitive strategy in a world of Modern App development:

I think we're seeing a number of clear strategies from Microsoft.

1. Release key apps for every major platform - Office for iPad, Skype, Lync are examples - so users get the Microsoft apps they rely on even if they aren't on a Microsoft device – there’s a truism that people don’t buy computers or operating systems (or devices) – they buy machines that run useful apps – software is king, and Microsoft has some of the best software out there

2. Create the most compelling cloud services offering to users - outlook.com, OneDrive, etc. Notice that there are first-class OneDrive and OneNote apps for OS X and iOS for example. As someone who leverages all these cloud services, I find them to be extremely compelling – much in the same way Office is compelling – because they all play so well together as a unified family

3. Create a new device segment via Surface, where users get the productivity of a laptop with the pleasurable leisure experience of a tablet - for my part the Surface is _exactly_ what I've always wanted, because it is my dev machine _and_ I can watch movies on the plane even if the person in front of me reclines their seat

4. Create a comprehensive cross-platform tooling strategy - by partnering with Xamarin (and now with Cordova support) and building out their JavaScript/TypeScript capabilities Microsoft is making it pretty darned easy to build .NET or js apps in Visual Studio that target every platform. This is to their benefit because there are still more Windows devices on the planet than any thing else (if you count all the desktops/laptops that run virtually every enterprise out there) and if they can keep us all building the same software for Windows as everything else then (even in the worst case) inertia works in their favor

5. Leveraging their patent portfolio - like 'em or hate 'em, patents are a real thing, and Microsoft makes around $8-$10 per Android device and I believe some off each iDevice too - and now they are giving Windows away for free for devices under 7" 9”, so Windows is now the cheapest mainstream phone OS on the planet

6. Create the most comprehensive PaaS offering for cloud development - notice that Azure is not only amazingly compelling for .NET developers, but also for HTML 5/Java/PHP/etc. Even if they were to entirely lose the client they have a good shot at being the dominant, or certainly one of the dominant, cloud and server development targets in the foreseeable future

Wednesday, May 14, 2014 11:37:09 AM (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [1]  | 
 Monday, April 28, 2014

As well all know, portable class libraries are pretty cool, but are restricted by the “lowest common denominator” effect.

For example, CSLA .NET supports the use of DataAnnotations along with the richer CSLA rules engine.

In trying to create one of the new “Universal PCL” assemblies to support WinRT on Win8 and WP8 I ran into the fact that WP8 doesn’t support DataAnnotations.

“No problem” I thought, “we already have our own implementation for WP8 Silverlight, for Android, and for iOS. I’ll just use that code.”

Which worked insofar as that I have a Universal PCL Csla.dll that builds.

But it doesn’t work because I can’t actually use that Csla.dll from WinRT on Win8 because that WinRT already has DataAnnotations and so there are type collisions.

As a result it isn’t clear to me that I can actually create a Universal PCL for CSLA – at least not one that supports DataAnnotations across all platforms like I’m able to do if I create one assembly per target platform (like I’ve been doing since 2007 with Silverlight 2).

I guess this makes sense. The guidance around creating a PCL is that you have code that is simple enough that it doesn’t include any platform-specific implementations that would be solved easily using #if directives. The internal implementation of some parts of CSLA is far from simple, and we do use #if directives to optimize for and/or leverage features of each of the 9 platforms currently supported by CSLA (yes, we really provide business code portability across NINE different platforms).

My personal feeling is that I’d rather support all 9 platforms as efficiently as possible, rather than compromise one or more of them just to use a fancy and optional new concept like the Universal PCL.

(of course if Microsoft and Xamarin add DataAnnotations to Windows Phone 8.1, Android, and iOS then I wouldn’t need to implement it in CSLA and that would also solve this problem – so maybe someday :) )

Monday, April 28, 2014 2:07:47 PM (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [2]  | 
 Thursday, April 24, 2014

Ho hum. Microsoft is going to bring back the start menu in Windows 8 – presumably in August.Windows-8-logo

That might be ok, though I’ve long since adapted to the start screen so I’m not sure I care at all.

What I do care about are much more real challenges when working in the ‘modern’ or WinRT (Windows Runtime or Windows Store) side of the operating system.

My top list:

  1. The file save/open dialogs don’t sort or filter items and so are almost useless if you have a lot of files
  2. The file save/open dialogs (and OneNote app) often don’t show the full filename or properties of files, making similar files hard to distinguish – again making these core aspects of the OS extremely challenging if not useless
  3. The OneDrive app doesn’t let me access folders shared to me by other people – a feature I use constantly, and so spend more time in the web UI than the app
  4. Unpredictability and lack of control about how WinRT apps display side-by-side is a continual thorn in my side – I launch an app in one monitor and it messes up the display in another monitor? Seriously?!?!
  5. The Calendar app is lame at best. It has some good features, but wastes amazing amounts of space and lacks simple bits of functionality like copying an item or moving an item from one calendar to another. Hopefully it turns into something more like the Windows Phone 8.1 calendar
  6. There’s no way to schedule Lync meetings using the Lync app – how lame is that???
  7. I’ve tried nearly all the file manager apps out there, and some are not bad, but what I _don’t_ understand is why the OneDrive app (which already does OneDrive and local PC stuff) doesn’t just handle things like removable and network drives so it would literally be the “one drive” app
  8. I want a notification summary screen like we now have in Windows Phone 8.1 - _that_ is a useful feature!

I guess what I’m getting at is that I understand that Microsoft feels like they need to add back the Start menu to lure stubborn people into using Win8. BUT what I’m afraid will happen is that they’ll lure people into the WinRT world only to have those people suffer the same day-to-day frustrations I already suffer because these core fit-and-finish capabilities aren’t implemented or complete.

Personally I think it would be better to make the WinRT platform so nice and compelling and fun to use that people will _choose_ to use it over the legacy Desktop with or without cosmetic stuff like a Start menu.

Thursday, April 24, 2014 9:58:09 AM (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [4]  | 
 Thursday, April 10, 2014

The term “modern app” is starting to gain some traction in our industry, but what is a modern app?

Microsoft started using this term to describe formerly-Metro and now Windows Store apps, but then they kind of backed off because they settled on Windows Store App as the name for what they were doing.

At Magenic though, we design and build modern apps for our customers in a platform independent way. We define the term thusly:

Modern applications support all types of devices, from phones to tablets to laptops to desktop computers, on all different platforms, from Windows to iOS to Android and HTML5. They provide first-class support for touch, keyboard, and mouse scenarios. And they rely on well-considered UX design to enable your users to leverage complex back-end or cloud-based services and data in a highly productive and compelling manner.

In our view, modern applications extend beyond simple mobile apps to include enterprise realities such as the need to work on existing computing devices (mostly PCs with keyboards and mice) as well as newer devices such as ultrabooks, tablets, and phones of all shapes, sizes, and OSes. And modern apps leverage existing backend services, as well as public and/or private cloud infrastructure where appropriate.

You can imagine that this definition of modern apps isn’t necessarily neat or simple, but it is meaningful. A typical modern app requires extensive development an integration on an enterprise’s servers and backend systems. It probably has a substantial Windows or web client for use by employees who need deep and rich interactivity with the entire system. And in today’s world it almost certainly has a meaningful subset of (or even full) functionality on tablets and phones.

At the moment enterprises are still trying to make BYOD work. As a result a typical modern app tends to have multiple client device implementations. If the BYOD trend continues it is reasonable to expect that cross-platform technologies such as Xamarin and JavaScript will become the norm rather than multiple disparate native implementations.

It is also possible that the high cost of BYOD for enterprise apps will cause enterprises to reassert control over client devices (like what happened 20 years ago as the PC and Windows emerged into the enterprise). This would likely bring out one majority client platform such as the Windows Runtime (WinRT) that enterprises would target for many internal modern business apps.

Time will tell on that front. But regardless, the high emphasis on UX, the need to support keyboard/mouse and touch equally, and the deep integration with existing enterprise and cloud systems are the cornerstones of the definition of a modern app.

Thursday, April 10, 2014 3:59:24 PM (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
 Monday, April 07, 2014

CHSPK18 Visual Studio Live! is coming to Chicago again this year. We’re right downtown near the big park and the lake, so it is a great location!

Even better, we’ve got a great lineup of content that covers today’s technologies (like WPF and ASP.NET) and emerging technologies like JavaScript single page applications (SPAs), TypeScript, mobile development for Android, iOS, and Windows.

I hope to see you there!

Update: I forgot to mention that you can save $400 on registration by clicking the link in this post!

Monday, April 07, 2014 1:29:15 PM (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [1]  | 
 Thursday, April 03, 2014

Microsoft has substantially improved the story around side loading of Windows 8 WinRT (Windows Runtime or Windows Store) apps for the enterprise and business environments.

I’ve blogged pretty extensively in the past about the costs of the two steps necessary to side load apps:

  1. Unlock your devices for side loading
  2. Actually side load (install) your various business apps

Microsoft has now radically changed the cost of step 1. This blog post from Microsoft contains the following statement:

Enterprise Sideloading– In May, we will grant Enterprise Sideloading rights to organizations in certain Volume License programs, regardless of what product they purchase, at no additional cost. Other customers who want to deploy custom line-of-business Windows 8.1 apps can purchase Enterprise Sideloading rights for an unlimited number of devices through Volume Licensing at approximately $100. For additional information on sideloading licensing, review the Windows Volume Licensing Guide.

Basically what this means is the following (as I understand it):

For developers/testers things are unchanged – you still use a free dev unlock key to install apps for development and testing.

For organizations with an Enterprise Agreement (EA) you’ll be able to get a side loading unlock key that you can use on all your Windows 8 Pro and Windows 8 Enterprise devices, regardless of whether they are domain joined or not. As before, you can also get ‘companion device’ keys to unlock Windows RT devices if you have a Windows 8 Enterprise device too.

For smaller organizations that don’t have an EA you might have (or can get) one of a number of ‘Open’ or ‘Select’ license agreements with Microsoft. Once you have one of these you can buy a side loading key for around $100 that will unlock any number of Windows 8 Pro or Windows 8 Enterprise devices.

When compared to the old model of buying keys for $30/device this is a major change in the right direction. For a maximum of around $100 virtually every organization (small to huge) can get a side loading unlock key for all their devices.

Now this still doesn’t address the need to actually install your apps onto your devices.

Microsoft offers InTune, which is a full MDM (mobile device management) product. If you find the value proposition of an MDM compelling then InTune is probably the right answer for you – though there’s a per device/per month cost (ranging from $6/device/month to $11/device/month) so you don’t get MDM for free of course.

Screenshot (5)I’ve been coordinating an open source project called OrgPortal that you can use to (relatively) easily create an app store for your organization.

There’s another open source project called CompanyStore that is very similar.

Alternately you can have your users manually run a PowerShell to install and update each app manually over time.

I think Microsoft has taken a substantial step in the right direction with the changes to the cost and availability of side loading keys. Couple this with the increasing maturity of projects like OrgPortal and CompanyStore and I think we’re getting to the point where WinRT is something to consider for business app development.

Thursday, April 03, 2014 12:43:38 AM (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [6]  | 
 Tuesday, April 01, 2014

On my flight to SF for #bldwin this week I sat between two random people. All three of us were normal business travelers, all spending our time on the flight doing a mix of entertainment (videos, reading, social games) and work (spreadsheets, email, editing documents).

(yes, I know it is rude to look at what your fellow travelers have on their screens, but in the cramped quarters on an airplane how can you NOT see???)

To my left was a man, perhaps in his late 30’s. He had an iPad that he used as a tablet to do some reading and watch some video. He also did some work on the iPad, for which he dug out a clamshell case that converted the iPad into a laptop with a keyboard. One device plus a laptop-sized keyboard peripheral.

To my right was a woman, maybe in her early 40’s. She had an iPad that she used to play some social games and do some reading. For most of the flight she dug out a traditional big Win7 laptop so she could use Outlook, Word, and Excel. Two devices consuming about the same physical area as the guy with his iPad and clamshell, though I bet he carried less weight than she did.

I’m sure it’ll be no surprise to anyone reading this blog that I was using my Surface Pro 2 the whole flight. And I too did some reading, some email, did a little social gaming, browsed the web, and did some work in Word. I am quite confident that my single device consumed less physical area than their devices in my carry-on bag. It might be that the weight of my device was comparable to the guy with his iPad/clamshell (the Surface weights more than the iPad, but perhaps less than the clamshell). Certainly we both were carrying less weight than the woman with an iPad and old-fashioned laptop.

For a long time I pleaded with Microsoft to give us (or at least me) a device that gave me the power of a laptop in the form of a tablet. It took them long enough, but I want to be clear that I think the Surface Pro 2 is exactly what I asked for way back when.

Enough battery life I don’t think about it. Light enough to carry (though not as light as the smaller iPads). Powerful enough to run Visual Studio and 1-2 Hyper-V VMs so I can do my work. Compact even with the backlit type keyboard.

The only thing I really wish is that there was a WinRT version of Office. The fact that existing Office drops me into the legacy desktop, and more importantly doesn’t allow me to use the Share charm or the integrated-into-WinRT DropBox and Box support is frustrating.

I’m fine with being in the legacy desktop for Visual Studio, because then I’m almost certainly connected to a bigger monitor, keyboard, and mouse setup.

(for those who are curious, here’s a good example of a nice USB-based docking station for Windows tablets; dual monitor output, keyboard/mouse, and more USB ports for other peripherals; all by plugging in one USB cable to your device)

But I frequently use Office without being docked, and it would be much nicer to use a WinRT version in that scenario.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014 4:57:13 PM (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
 Thursday, March 20, 2014

The MyVote app is a complete modern app built by Magenic as a demo for Modern Apps Live! conferences.Logo

MyVote from Modern Apps Live! LV 2014 is available on the MyVote releases page on GitHub.

The MyVote app is available for install

Although we’ve made the code available on GitHub, getting the app compiled and running is non-trivial of course, because this is a complete modern app with clients for

  • WinRT
  • iOS
  • Android with Xamarin
  • HTML 5/JavaScript single page app

and services that use

  • Windows Azure SQL Server
  • Windows Azure Mobile Services
  • Windows Azure Web Sites
  • Windows Azure Cloud Services

In GitHub the README.md file contains a list of places in the code where you’ll need to insert your own encryption and service keys. Beyond that you are largely on your own. If you are looking for a more detailed walkthrough of the implementation I can only suggest that you attend Modern Apps Live! in Orlando this fall.

Thursday, March 20, 2014 10:23:53 PM (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00)  #    Disclaimer  |  Comments [0]  | 
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The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.

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