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    MSP Voice: Omri Wallach’s big app idea

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    It is common for the human brain to sometimes have the best ideas on a certain subject when completely focused on something else. This is exceptionally true to University students, but can also be referred to as ‘procrastinating’. Case in point: There I was, studying for my final exams and living off of coffee and hot pockets, when a brilliant idea for a Windows Phone 7 app finally lodges itself in my brain. You get ideas from the strangest sources, and mine was of course spur-of-the-moment.

    I listen to music constantly when I study (or work, or live for that matter), and when there is no source of music I make my own. Tapping on tables, humming tunes... I must be the pet peeve of every co-worker in existence. So, in the midst of studying with no music and humming some nonsensical tune, I get an epiphany. What if there was an app for that? Then, instead of studying (because my brain hurt of boredom), I expanded the idea. An app that could make basic beats and background music for songs. You set a bass-line, set a snare on repeat, set a couple of notes on a trumpet to loop every 4 bars, and you have the building blocks to the next great pop-song. Save all your blocks together as an mp3, plug it into your computer program later, and really make the music happen.

    The key is that instead of having to jot down notes on a piece of paper or try to remember a great idea in your head (think “dum dum da da daaaa dum dum”), you literally save your idea and master it later. That being said, no one steal my idea, as the 3rd and final round of the Battle of the Apps is accepting submissions right now. A free phone and a potential trip to Australia? You bet I’m going to submit my app. See you on the judging side.

    Omri Wallach
    Microsoft Student Parter | UBC

    The third and final round of Battle of the Apps (http://battleoftheapps.ca) closes on June 15th.

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    Get free tools from DreamSpark

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    Did you know that as a student, you have access to lots of freebies on http://www.dreamspark.com/? Need more development power than Visual Studio 2010 Express can offer? Want to get access to the full Microsoft Expression Studio suite? DreamSpark is the solution!

    DreamSpark provides students with various development and design tools at no charge. Additionally, various offers such as Microsoft Certification and AppHub Marketplace registration fees are waived for students through DreamSpark registration.

    To access all the goodies on DreamSpark, simply verify your identity through your school email. If your email is not on the school list, email godevmental@microsoft.com to receive a redemption code.

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    Leveraging Windows Azure for Your Next App Idea

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    If you’re not already using Windows Azure somehow in your applications, I’m sure you’ve been hearing more and more about how Windows Azure can help you build applications faster by focusing on development and not infrastructure or how it can help you respond faster to customer needs by having infrastructure resources at your disposal the moment you need them. You may have seen the following summary of why to use the Windows Azure platform (it’s on the Windows Azure site):

    image

    The response that I usually get from developers is “That all sounds great, but what does it all mean? Where would I actually use Windows Azure?” It’s a great question but unfortunately there’s no simple answer since the platform is flexible enough that you could use it in many different ways to solve very diverse problems.

    I thought that I would pull together the scenarios that I’ve been seeing lately as I work with students who are developing apps across the country. Hopefully, these scenarios will plant the seed in your mind and maybe even compel you to take that app that you’ve been thinking about and see if you can use Windows Azure to make it come to life faster and cost-effectively.

    Mobile Applications

    When it comes to mobile platforms, such as the phone and slate devices, Windows Azure offers you an easy way to add redundant storage, compute power, database access, queuing, and caching to your applications without having to put strain on the device. This essentially makes Windows Azure the backend of your app. A huge benefit of using Windows Azure is dynamic scale. The mobile platform is expanding rapidly and apps are being downloaded by thousands every day. Your app may be one of those apps, potentially becoming an overnight success. If your apps uses data online, you’ll need the infrastructure capacity in the backend to be able to support that success. Windows Azure can do that for you in a matter of a few clicks with no upfront infrastructure or configuration costs – perfect for starting off small and reaching full potential in no time.

    Check out Connecting Windows Phone 7 and Slates to Windows Azure on the Canadian Mobile Developers’ Blog to get a deeper understand of how these platforms can work together. Once you’ve done that, get started by downloading the Windows Azure Toolkit for Windows Phone 7 or for iOS and working through Getting Started With The Windows Azure Toolkit for Windows Phone 7 and iOS.

    Social Applications

    As you know, social apps such as games (Farmville anyone?), sharing, and location-based apps are the biggest thing these days. Social apps have the potential to reach millions of users in a short period of time, so like the mobile apps, they need a robust, scalable, and dependable platform on which to run. Social apps can become a success in no time, and you’ll need to be able to provision compute power, storage, and content delivery quickly. More importantly, social networks, like Facebook, aren’t going to host your application or game, but your users will expect the kind of experience (from a responsiveness and availability perspective) as they get from their social network. Deploying to Windows Azure, within the Microsoft data centers and potentially distributing your app and its data worldwide, will ensure you meet or exceed those expectations.

    Find out how Sneaky Games, one of the first game developers to deploy a massive web-based game on Windows Azure, did it and what steps you should take to get started in this video. If you’re looking to target Facebook, Steve Apiki has put together a walkthrough of a sample application that uses the Facebook SDK with Windows Azure to create a simple ‘viral’ marketing application. There’s also an MSDN webcast, Creating Facebook Apps that can Easily Handle a Crowd, coming up on June 1st.

    Websites

    Of course, there are always websites – building websites and hosting them on Windows Azure is a common scenario. But anyone can host any site at any hoster, so what’s the difference? Where you start seeing the benefits of Windows Azure kick in is when you want to do things like:

    • Scale quickly – let’s say you launched your website today and don’t anticipate too much traffic for the first few months. You provisioned a small server that can handle your forecasted load. All of a sudden, your website catches on and within days, you have double or triple your forecasted load and your small server can no longer handle all of the requests. Now what? With your website deployed to Windows Azure, you can instantaneously provision additional resources, ensuring that your site stays up and running, serving users with no zero impact.
    • Store massive amounts of data – Perhaps your site stores and uses a lot of images, videos, and other large files. Windows Azure’s Storage Services give you the storage you need for all that data at a cost that won’t make you think twice. More importantly, if your users are geographically dispersed, you can take all of that data and locate it geographically closer to them, giving them the most optimal performance experience.
    • Authorization and Authentication made easy – Rather than having users create usernames and passwords for your website, why not leverage all of the identity providers that are already out there, like Windows Live and Facebook? Windows Azure AppFabric’s Access Control Service allows you to do that, plus a whole lot more, with minimal amount of configuration, and potential zero code!

    I could write a whole series on just websites and how Windows Azure for websites makes sense. But I’ll leave the rest for you to discover as you think about the requirements you need for your application. Check out the conclusion at the bottom of the page for how to get your website using Windows Azure.

    Conclusion

    These are just some common scenarios that I see out there today, but they are certainly not all of them. Student developers are using Windows Azure in many interesting ways, and as such, I highly encourage you to look a bit further into the platform, discover what’s possible, and see how you can leverage Windows Azure for your next app. I’ve included many links above to get you started, but in addition to those, you can also:

    If you’re already leveraging Windows Azure, I’d love to hear your story and maybe even feature it on our blogs – your story could inspire other Canadians to move their applications to the Cloud as well.

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    Mango Impressions

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    A few weeks ago, having connected my Samsung Focus to my desktop for syncing, I was greeted with a pleasant message from Zune notifying me that a Windows Phone 7 update was available. The NoDo update included fine-tuned performance and app start-up time tweaks, as well as the much awaited copy and paste feature, among other things. Features aside, the performance optimizations alone gave the OS a fresh and brand new feel. So needless to say, I am really excited about Mango – the next WP7 update. Mango’s list of features is so immense, that the update might as well be described as an intermediate OS release between the current version of WP7 and Windows 8.

    For starters, Mango will include the mobile version of IE9, along with some of its most important features. In-browser Silverlight, HTML5 and hardware acceleration support are all slated to be included in the mobile cousin of the desktop browser. With HTML5, a music site with an audio playlist, for instance, will let you play music directly from the browser. While GPU accelerated Silverlight will give you direct access to interactive multimedia, once again, directly from your browser. And yes, that includes games. These features are impressive on their own, but I am even more eager to make use of them simultaneously, as Mango will include true multitasking. In the MIX2011 showcase, this was presented by playing music on a website using HTML5 and returning to the home screen with the music continuing to play. If you enjoy habitual game-playing but quickly grow tired of in-game music and would rather stream an online audio stream, then Mango has a treat for you!

    Mango opens the doors wide-open to developers with an ocean of new APIs. Included in the list is support for TCP/IP sockets, finally paving the way to direct communication, instant messaging, multiplayer gaming, and more. Raw access to camera stream along with a motion sensor library and gyroscope support will allow for development of augmented reality apps and games. One particular API that is near and dear to my heart, XNA, will benefit from Silverlight/XNA integration, allowing for Silverlight’s UI components to be used natively in 3D accelerated games.

    Along with these features, the already gorgeous Metro UI also gets a facelift. One particular feature that I think will become both handy and aesthetically pleasing to everyone is the alphabetical categorization of apps. The new layout is identical to the way your contact list behaves, allowing you to navigate to an app by name by selecting the first letter. Additionally, live tiles will be updateable with push notifications. In fact, apps will be able to take advantage of double-sided tiles and even multiple tiles.

    With all that said, allow me to leave you with something to think about. Although the enormity of Mango makes it look like a major OS release, it is still bound to be just an update for WP7. However, now that we know that Windows 8 will be heading to SoC and will natively support ARM, it sure does make you think about what the next evolution of the PC and subsequently Windows 8-based tablets will be like. No speculation though, just food for thought :)

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    Build an app and you could win a trip to Australia

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    In case you missed it, the Great Canadian Apportunity (http://www.greatcanadianapportunity.ca) is now over and the winner has been announced! The Grand Prize winner will receive a whopping $10,000. The first runner up will enjoy a Mesh 2011 Conference Pack worth $3,000 along with a Windows Phone 7 device, while the second runner up will receive a Dell Alienware Laptop Bundle and a Windows Phone 7 device as well.

    Want to win big too? You still have a chance!

    Battle of the Apps (http://www.battleoftheapps.ca/) is a student-only competition currently in its 3rd and final round. You have until June 15th to make a Windows Phone 7 app and publish it on the marketplace for the entire world to download and use. With only one round remaining, you still have a shot at one of three Windows Phone 7 devices and career opportunities with Microsoft, Polar Mobile, Habañero and Yellow Pages. The three semi-finalists also get a shot at the grand prize ­- a trip to Australia to attend TechEd 2011!

    Excited but not sure if you can score a winning app? No worries. Have a look at past submissions (http://www.battleoftheapps.ca/Submissions) to get an idea of what the expectations are. Don’t worry if some of the apps look far too fancy. You’ll be surprised just how impressed the judges can be by even the simplest-looking apps.

    Convinced and ready to go? Head over to http://create.msdn.com/ and grab the Windows Phone Developer Tools to get started. If you’re unsure of what to do or how to start building an app, just flip through the education catalog and grab any complete sample to start learning. In fact, you can use the samples as the foundation for your own apps. They are there for you, so use them!

    As you’re developing your app, be sure to commence the marketplace registration by signing up on http://create.msdn.com/. As a student, you do not have to worry about any marketplace developer fees thanks to DreamSpark (http://www.dreamspark.com/). Simply use your university email address to register, and the marketplace fee is on us. And while you’re on DreamSpark, be sure to grab Visual Studio 2010 Professional to get even more power for building your app. If your school is not on the list, shoot an email to godevmental@microsoft.com to receive a coupon.

    The final round of Battle of the Apps ends on June 15th, 2011. Plenty of time to create an app that might win you a trip to Australia.

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