Windows 8 – New thoughts

TLDR: Windows 8 isn’t perfect, but it’s a stepping stone towards what I want from a modern computing environment.

I was a fan of the “Metro” interface, first on Windows Phone and then on Windows 8. However, I’ve been studying my use of my PC and find that I rarely use the Start Screen.

Most of the time, I’ve got Visual Studio full-screen and all my work is done in there. I tend to use my phone and tablet (Nexus 7 until we get a Surface Mini) for most of the other stuff I would have done in the past on a PC (Browsing, Email, Skyping, Messaging etc.)

So whilst I like the concept of Live Tiles, I rarely see them on my desktop PC. What would be more useful is a notification centre, that I could view at the click of a button, or even by hovering at the edge of the screen like the charm bars.

I’m still a big fan of WINRT, we’ve needed for a long while to get away from Win32 and I think that is where Microsoft needs to spend its time, both in a “Window” and the full-screen experience. A modern API for modern application scenarios. Cross-platform across all devices (including Android and iOS)

I am a fan of the “Modern UI” design guidelines and also liking the “Material” design that Google announced recently. Also liking the “continuous client” approach that Apple seem to be taking.

We are in a period of slow evolution, as we moved into a multi-device world. There will be a few wrong turns, but there always have been in the history of computing.

I know that what I have in Windows 7 doesn’t give me what I need for how I work today, Windows 8.x is getting closer by giving me WinRT and apps that work across platforms, but that is more down to the cloud and WinRT APIs rather than the Windows 8.x UI.

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Windows 8 Consumer Preview – So far, so ok

I’ve been using the Windows 8 consumer preview for a little over a month and a half now, and I’ve not missed the Start button once. I’ve tried my best to stay Metro in usage, but that is very difficult given the lack of apps and the very limited functionality of the apps there are.
As an OS, Windows 8 seems pretty solid, apps may crash but the operating system has stayed firm beyond a couple of touch loss issues on my Samsung Series 7 Slate. I’ve been using Windows 8 on desktop, tablet and laptop and the experience is very nice across all three form factors. I suppose it may help that I’ve been using PC’s since the days of DOS, so know my way around keyboard shortcuts and the like. Moving the mouse to the top right edge of the screen to get the Charms feels very natural, although I do often using Windows Key-C to bring it up. Bring up the list of running apps by moving to the top left edge of the screen is okay, but I’ll confess that I can’t get out of the ALT-TAB habit.
Multiple monitor support is a problem. I want to be able to have Metro on both my screens and not have one Metro and one Desktop. I have no real interest in the desktop beyond backwards compatibility.
The Preview Apps are the current weak point of the release. There issues are discussed elsewhere on the web ( but I don’t want to comment until they are closer to a release candidate. From what I’ve seen, the potential is there, the question is whether Microsoft can deliver that potential.
I’m a little disappointed by the lack of app-updates. It would have been nice to see new functionality delivered and see the apps evolve over the last month, but maybe I’m just being a little impatient. This blog entry was written with the Word Press app, and whilst lacking in features is a pretty nice little app for knocking off a quick text blog post.
In the next month, I’m hoping to see more updates to the core apps, it would be nice to see the Mail app being a little more stable and giving better error messages to why it can’t sync with Exchange, or even to be able to alter connections rather than having to reset them up every time a password is changed.
I’d also like to see the Kindle app in the UK Windows Store, so I can see how it reads on my Samsung Slate. Full Xbox Live integration in the UK would be nice too, very disappointed we were missed out.
As always, developing for a new version of Windows can be a little frustrating. Documentation and more complex samples are thin on the ground, especially given the new UI changes. It would be nice to see some more best practise documentation for Metro User Experiences. I guess Microsoft are still figuring out what works best.
Whilst others may complain about the lack of a Start Menu or that Metro is the default interface, I’m looking forward to progressing into a Metro World, but please give me a clock on the Metro Start Screen.
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Things I’m hoping to see in 2012

Beyond hoping to spend more of my time writing applications rather than ETLing data from one place to another, here is my list of things I’m looking forward to in 2012.

Windows 8 – this is the big one for 2012. If Microsoft get this right, then the future is bright. Any missteps are going to be pounced on by the Tech Press and the Microsoft haters. I love the developer preview. It has its flaws on the desktop but on a touch-device, it really works they way I want to.

Office 2012 – if a new version of Office is forthcoming this year, I’d like to see it make use of the touch / tablet / slate paradigm. An improved OneNote designed for Metro on Windows 8 would be great. Improved stylus/pen support being a must. I’d like 2012 to see the end of my need to carry paper-notebooks to meetings. I want to be carrying my cloud enabled OneNote device and pen.

I’m curious to see where SharePoint is taken this year, how it will fit in with the new HTML 5 / JavaScript loving Microsoft.

Visual Studio 11 – hopefully the final version of this will be out before the end of the year. I haven’t had much chance to play with the Developer Preview outside of Windows 8 development. VS is my main tool for my day job, so any kind of productivity improvement and increased tooling support for modern day development scenarios will be most welcome.

Windows Phone – I hope Microsoft find a better balance in how they release updates. The curse of all the “social” integration built in at a low-level, is that new features and functionality have to wait until a major update instead of as and when they become available. For the moment, I’d be happy if the actual Facebook Application was kept more up-to-date with the site changes and with the iPhone and Android apps. Twitter on Windows Phone is served better by great third party apps like Rowi, but it would be great if the “official” client kept pace with the other platforms. Google+ integration would be nice too, but I won’t hold me breath.

Nokia Windows Phone – The Lumia is a wonderful phone but without a front-facing camera, it’s not for me. Hopefully we’ll see a new model with front-facing-camera and near-field communication announced this year. For now, I’ll stick with my HTC HD 7, even though the camera experience is frustratingly poor.

Skype/Live Messenger/Lync/Kinect Video – hope to be able to use any of these clients to video call any of the others by the end of the year. Even better if they can support a similar function to the Google Plus Hangout feature.

Integration across platforms – 2011 was a good year for integration across platforms. OneNote on Windows Phone and iPhone. The ever improving Windows Live SkyDrive and Office Web Apps. The new Xbox Companion app on Windows Phone is a personal highlight. Controlling my Xbox from the phone is remarkable smooth and useful experience. The whole new Metro Xbox interface giving a taste of the 3 screens and a cloud strategy starting to come alive. Whilst many have pilloried Microsoft for creating apps for competing platforms, to me it seems like a sound strategy to stay relevant. Being able to access my data using any device I have to hand seems like a big win for me. I hope to see more of these cross-platform apps and a bigger investment in Microsoft cloud based software services.

2012 is going to be a big year on the software front, it is probably going to give us a better idea of whether Microsoft can stay relevant or if there is going to have to be a big shake up in how the big MS is organised.

One thing for sure, it’s not going to be a dull year.

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I don’t want no stinkin’ apps

Everywhere you go now it’s all about apps, app store this, we’ve got an app for that, ad nauseum. However do we need all these apps. On my iPod touch I had several apps for letting me read news, each app from a different company. So I had to launch a different app every time I wanted to read the news from these providers.

On my Windows Phone 7 device, if I want to use the Facebook Check-in functionality, then I have to start the Facebook app first. (which takes a long time and makes checking into a location not worth the effort)

What I want is services not applications. One news hub (for the want of a better term), that can read news feeds so that I can see stories from various difference outlets (Sky, BBC, CNN etc.) within the same “list”. Flipboard for the iPad is a good beginning, but this kind of thing should be built directly into the platform to give service providers a large user base to provide their services too.

I want my social hub (which the people hub on Windows Phone 7 comes close to fulfilling), where I can see my various social network feeds in the same place. To be able to perform a check-in across multiple service providers (Facebook, FourSquare etc.) all from one user interface.

My device’s calendar should be able to show all the different calendar items that I have, from my work calendar, Facebook Events and all the other services that support date based event data.

Apps will always have their place, but platform makers need to start looking at other alternatives for developers to build services on top of their platform, rather than just adding another application icon to the “desktop”.

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Windows 7 and the Tablet Experience

I’ll make my confession first, I am a card carrying member of the Microsoft Supporters club. However I find myself having great doubts about their Tablet/Slate strategy. Windows 7 out of the box is not ready for the tablet experience.

The whole user experience paradigm of a desktop operating system does not fit the touch interface that a tablet needs. As an experiment, I tried playing Solitaire on my Acer Aspire 1825PT. Whilst playing the actual game and moving the cards around works well with the Windows 7 touch interface, launching the application via the “Start” menu was extremely fiddly. (I do tend to have sausage fingers but I don’t think others would fare better.)

The cascading menus are also a big problem with touch and given that is still a user interface that it is used across the vast majority of Windows based application, they will be a stumbling block to Windows on tablets.

Maybe Microsoft are working on a new user interface for Windows 7 that will work better on slate devices. Doing this will mean a lot of the Windows apps that people would like to run on a slate will need reworking too.

So the usual advantages that Windows has over its competitors no longer apply, and given how quickly the iPad and Android applications are being deployed, there will be a lot of catching up to do again.

Windows Phone 7 has shown that Microsoft can throw away a complete user experience and design something that works on a touch device. (Personally I think this UX is far superior to anything Apple or Android have at the moment)

To do a tablet properly, Microsoft need to show the imagination that they’ve shown with WP7, but remember that a tablet isn’t a phone and it isn’t a laptop without a keyboard. I just hope the clever people at Microsoft can get this message across to their senior leadership before it is too late.

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Annoying Visual Studio bug with Script Tag

I was attempting to add jQuery support into a master-page.

   1: <%@ Master Language="C#" AutoEventWireup="true" CodeBehind="Site.master.cs" Inherits="HCGWebTemplate1.Site" %>
   3: <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Transitional//EN" "">
   5: <html xmlns="" >
   6: <head runat="server">
   7:     <title></title>
   8:     <asp:ContentPlaceHolder ID="head" runat="server">
   9:     </asp:ContentPlaceHolder>
  10:     <link href="styles/base.css" rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" />
  11:     <script src="/scripts/jquery-1.2.6.js" type="text/javascript" />
  13:  </head>
  14: <body>
  15:     <form id="form1" runat="server">
  16:     <div>
  17:         <asp:ContentPlaceHolder ID="content" runat="server">       
  18:         </asp:ContentPlaceHolder>
  19:     </div>
  20:     </form>
  21: </body>
  22: </html>


However when I viewed the content page in the design view. I got the following error,

“The page has one or more <asp:Content> controls that do not correspond with <asp:ContentPlaceHolder> controls in the Master Page”

After a few misdirected steps, I finally discovered what was causing the problem.

The Script tag I originally had was

   1: <script src="/scripts/jquery-1.2.6.js" type="text/javascript" />

The problem was how the script tag was being closed. The valid code which stopped the error is

   1: <script src="/scripts/jquery-1.2.6.js" type="text/javascript"></script>

From now on I’ll remember to include a closing script tag rather than just having one tag.

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Calling JavaScript from a GridView command

I’d been asked to add some notification messages to long running operations in a web project. One of the tasks that took a while to run was initiated from clicking a GridView command button.

I decided the best way to show a notification message was to use some JavaScript to show the notification message and hide the rest of the form.

It took me a little while to figure out how to hook the JavaScript to a GridView command.

First you need to add a handler for the RowCreated event. Inside that handler, you need to find the LinkButton object that represents the command. When you have a reference to that button, you can just add the onclick attribute as normal.

   1: protected void DevelopmentPackages_RowCreated(object sender, GridViewRowEventArgs e)
   2: {
   3:     if (e.Row.RowType == DataControlRowType.DataRow)
   4:     {
   5:         LinkButton o = (LinkButton) e.Row.Cells[4].Controls[0];
   7:         if (o != null)
   8:         {
   9:             o.Attributes.Add("onclick", "javascript: hourglass();");
  10:         }
  11:     }
  12: }

Now when the command button is clicked, it will execute the specfied javascript function and then continue onto the RowCommand event handler.

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