• Go DevMENTAL

    I’ll have some Cloud with a coffee please!

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    So what is that cloud thing? 42Spikes has this great picture of it:

    This is a metal container filled with interconnected servers and cooling systems. Not very puffy, I should say.

    Now that we know what it looks like, we can learn why we should use it.

    If you’ve had a chance to watch the D³: LIVE & INTERACTiVE special with Paula Rainford, Current IT Market Conditions and Hiring Trends in 2012, you'd know that the need for developers with Cloud Computing knowledge and skills is increasing. So for the student, this means new graduate + Windows Azure skills = improved changes in the job market. Windows Azure skills and knowledge are being sought after by companies of all sizes. When you have a chance, take a look at these videos that teach you all about Windows Azure and what you can do with it. If you prefer to learn in-person with an instructor, look for a Windows Azure Camp in a city near you.

    So why bother learning it right now? Aside from a brighter future, Microsoft Cloud Evangelist Jonathan Rozenblit has a Tim Horton's gift card for you to reward yourself for learning something new. A student will never say no to something free, right?!?! How do you get your hands on the rewards? Simple. Jonathan has a very easy 4 step tutorial that will get you those Canadian drinks in no time. He even gives you a finished sample that you can deploy right away and learn the code later! Just make sure you follow his instructions, learn and have some coffee with that cloud.

    Enjoy!

    Offer good only in Canada and is available to the first 200 individuals, including residents of Quebec, who complete the hands-on lab, are verified by the Microsoft Canada Team, and have received a verification email from cdnazure@microsoft.com. Limit one gift per person. The gift is a $10 Tim Horton's gift card. The offer is non-transferable and cannot be combined with any other offer. Due to government gift and ethics laws, government employees are not eligible to participate. This offer is valid until all 200 gifts have been awarded. Any gift returned as non-deliverable will not be re-sent. Please allow up to 3 weeks for verification and 6-8 weeks for delivery of your gift which will be provided to you via mail. We reserve the right to substitute a gift of equal or greater value

  • Go DevMENTAL

    Don’t miss your last chance to enter Imagine Cup!

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    IC-Logo_300pxWideYou still have time to register and enter! But deadlines are today and next week to submit your ideas and move forward to round 2!

    Most of the first round submissions just require a description of your idea, so it’s not too difficult, it gives us an idea of what you plan to build. But, you must submit round one requirements to move on to the next round. Not sure which category your solution falls into? You can enter a solution in more than one category, so why not enter both?

    The Software Design and Windows Phone Game Design categories will be part of the Canadian finals, but don’t let that stop you from entering other categories as well. Attending the Canadian finals isn’t the only way to get to Australia!

    Canadian & World Competitions

    WorldWide Competition

    Don’t forget deadlines are midnight GMT! So don’t forget to translate that to your local time zone. It all starts with an idea, time to start sharing those ideas! Register and submit your ideas today!

  • Go DevMENTAL

    You need to control yourself when adding controls to mobile UIs

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    UseAllOfTheControlsBy now, most people have realized (in theory) that recreating a PC-based app (or web app) is not exactly the right idea for mobile apps.  In practice, however, it is clear that this is not as easy as it sounds.  When you’re building an app that has no history on the PC or web, building the app for mobile is a little easier as you can resist the temptation to add too much of the functionality from that original app to your mobile app.  But even then, it’s not always easy to pare down the functionality of your app to a mobile screen.  The original scope of your app when you wrote it down on a napkin in a bar while talking to friends was a great start, but like most other software projects, you find the urge to add more in with the expectation that more functionality means more useful.  Cluttering your app with more controls is not the answer.  This post will provide some guidance on how to thoughtfully build functionality for your app’s user interface so that it meets the right balance of complexity and usability.

    Let’s face it.  Aging paradigm or not, successful PC apps and web apps have the ability to make you very productive.  Get in, do the work, get out fast (and maybe hang out a while to check out other parts of the app afterward).  That’s the aspiration PC/Web app developers have for the users of their apps.  A good example of this is Microsoft’s OneNote product (if you’ve never heard of it, it’s a relatively new addition to Microsoft Office and one of the best apps I’ve used for productivity – it’s singlehandedly replaced Word and Notepad for my free-form thought transfer and note-taking tasks).  It’s awesome and has materially increased my productivity while using my laptop.  It’s also a fairly “busy” tool with lots of bells and whistles in the control ribbon to help me get things done.  I like to humourously call this traditional app design the PC and Web app “Mullet”.

    PCAppMullet

    On the top (or front), it’s all business, meaning all of the controls go at the top.  The “party” as it were, is on the bottom (or back), which is another way of saying the valuable information (your content) goes there.  It’s similar with browser-based apps, with the web controls going on the top and the content below it.

    This design is actually a very effective one as it allows you to focus in on the content on the screen and use your mouse to modify the content through the ribbon at the top.  But how does this translate to mobile apps?  You may have noticed that the most user-friendly mobile apps don’t use this standard PC-based design for presenting information to the user.  There’s a good reason for that.

    Let’s use a very early iteration of the FourSquare app for Windows Phone as an example.  This is what one of the screens looked like, and the issue that was found with it:

    FourSquareDo you see the challenge in using this screen?  If you guessed that the Check-In button caused the screen to be obstructed when you used the app, you would be right!

    By placing the check-in button for this app near the top of the screen, the user cannot see other valuable information that it provides, such as the location map and other functionality such as getting directions or calling the establishment the user was checking into.

    You might provide the counter-argument that most users would likely use their thumbs to use the controls on the screen and you’d be right, but the general principle still holds; if you place critical components of your app near the top of the screen, you will obstruct the view of the rest of the screen from the user which is a usability no-no.  In other words, controls that represent critical functionality of the screen should be placed near the bottom of the screen, not the top.

    The FourSquare team noticed this usability challenge very quickly and iterated their Windows Phone app quickly as a result, which ended up in a much more usable screen for the user.  The screenshots below show this change for the FourSquare app, as well as how OneNote for Windows Phone was designed with this principle in mind as well:

    ReverseMulletNotice the change here?  This is the exact opposite of how traditional PC and web apps are designed.  The content is front and center near closer to the top, and the controls are at the bottom.  Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the classic mobile app design that I like to call the “Reverse Application Mullet”.

    It’s important to note how both examples to the allow the content of the app to take center stage.  Any real functionality in this case is handled by the app bar at the bottom.  Well save that lesson for the upcoming fourth instalment in this blog post series, so stay tuned for that.

    It’s also important to note that if you compare the PC and mobile versions of OneNote, they are clearly very different in look and feel.  They both allow the user to do the same thing but the implementation of each does look very different.  Consistency in the look and feel of your mobile app and it’s PC-based app counterpart (if there is one) is not something you truly need to aspire to.  Look at what the mobile version of your app is meant to accomplish and keep a furious focus on that functionality (I talked about that in my first post in this blog post series).  When porting a PC app to a mobile app, scope creep is your mortal enemy.

    The last thing I want to impart on you is the importance of grid-like placement of your controls in your mobile apps.  Clean, consistent lines make for a more desirable user experience in mobile apps.  When you have a large screen size (like PCs and web apps generally do), you can get away with less consistency in lining up controls as the size of the screen can hide imperfections.  When you have a smartphone-sized screen, the story is completely different.  Use a grid to place the controls on your screen.  This will allow you to align controls and add consistency to the personality of your app. 

    You may hear designers for mobile apps talk about a concept of “magic numbers” for mobile app platforms.  These numbers act as guidelines for you to design your mobile app screens with a consistency that aligns with the platform in general.  For example, the Magic Number for Windows Phone (i.e.:  Metro) is 12.  The number 12 is indicative of the best offset (i.e.: spacing) in between controls.  That is to say, when grouping controls together on the screen, don’t group them any closer than 12 pixels apart.  With the offset of 12, Microsoft has built a handy version of this design grid that you can use to design your apps with the magic number of 12 in mind.  Basically, the grid is a series of 25 pixel squares (12 squares wide and 20 squares long), each square offset by 12 pixels with a 24 pixel border around the edges.  There are two great posts on the grid that I encourage you to read, the first by Jeff Wilcox found here (which provides a download to the grid and an example Windows Phone code project) and the second by Arturo Toledo found here (which provides a download to the raw grid files in various formats for your own use).

    Below are some great examples how the Windows Phone team adheres to the grid principle in areas like the People hub and others:

    WPGridExamples 

    You’ll notice how the various controls and screen assets adhere to the grid guidelines.  This allows for a truly consistent experience across the OS and through your own app.  And trust me on this, your users will notice if things are out of alignment.  They may not necessarily be able to state outright what the issue is, but they will notice something is a little off in your app.  It takes a little more time to build out your app’s screens, but in the end it is worth it.

    This post is the second in a five-part series on creating awesome mobile UIs and creating your app with mobility-first in mind. The first post was on resisting the urge to recreate a PC or web app on the mobile form factor. The third post will be on the size of UI assets on the screen and why it is important. The fourth post will be on when to use an app bar vs. populating controls on your app’s screens. The fifth and final post will be on implementing gestures and animations to make them useful to the app.

  • Go DevMENTAL

    March App Madness: Join the Developer Movement at Canadian Universities and Colleges

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    You get the chance to join students in Canadian universities and colleges for their Microsoft’s Developer Movement sponsored events and bring new technology into your life.

    There is perhaps no better place to be right now than Canada. Especially if you are a student!

    Now that the Developer Movement has reached Facebook; Microsoft and Go DevMental are partnering with some students societies across Canada to bring the movement to you. Based on the this initiative, March App Madness gives students the opportunity to earn great rewards all in exchange for a Windows Phone App. You can choose among Xbox360/Kinect  bundles, Windows Phone  devices and even a $500 gift certificate, when you develop two apps!

    Let wally tell you all about the Developer Movement and the prizes you can get.

    As Wally would say, “But Wait! March App Madness gives you even more!” You don’t have to venture on your own. Our student partners are hosting hack-a-thons, tutorial sessions and information sessions where you learn, create and publish your own mobile app with the support of your friends and peers at your school. It is easy!

    Here are some of the events happening

    Events | March 1. to the 31.:

    There will be more events added from other universities. A good way to keep up is to join the Developer Movement Event on Facebook or like Go DevMental on Facebook, to learn about these opportunities as early as possible!
    If there is no event at your school, make sure to contact us at godevmental@microsoft.com and let us know. Start Something! it is up to you!

    All you need to do to participate is the following:

    Register:

    Install:

    Submit:

    • publish your app on create.msdn.com.
    • Like Go DevMental on Facebook
    • Post your developer name, your App name, a link to the marketplace page and a blurb about what your app does!
    • [Optional] post a screenshot of your app!

    The best ones will be featured in our developer newsletters, on the apps of the month and it will have a story in our Blog!
    Don’t forget to tell us once you publish your app on Facebook!

    What are you waiting for? Go get yourself some awesome rewards and learn how to create your own mobile Apps in the process…or the other way around.

  • Go DevMENTAL

    Round 2 Windows Phone Game Design–BUILD LEVEL 1 OF YOUR GAME!

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    IC-Logo_300pxWideRound 1 has passed for Windows Phone Game Design, Round 2 entries must be submitted by March 13th! Read on to find out more about the next steps to make sure YOU have a chance to attend the Canadian or World Finals!

    Round 2 Deadline: March 13 23:59 GMT

    To save you the hassle, I looked up GMT that works out to 20:59 Atlantic, 19:59 Eastern, 16:59 Pacific

    Are you one of the Canadian teams who have entered Round 1 of the Windows Phone Game Design category? If so, you’ve taken the first step towards appearing on stage for the Canadian or maybe even World finals. The next step is to complete the requirements for Round 2.

    Round 1 is just a way for us to get an idea of who has entered, there is no judging of Round 1 entries. But you must meet the requirements for each round to advance, so here’s a summary of what you need to prepare for Round 2 with more details below.

    The official rules and regulations are here Game Design: Phone Rules 

    • Playable Game – we can’t judge it if we can’t try it, get at least one level completed, graphics can be rough for now
    • Game Play Instructions – an electronic document that informs the judges and players how to set up and play your team’s game
    • Game Video – a video capture of your team’s game in action
    • Game Design Storyboard OR Game Summary Document (You did this for Round 1 already)

    Here are a few resources that might help you get that First level of your game completed: 

    Divvy up the work among teammates to share the workload. Many of these tasks can be done in parallel: One person can start writing up the Game Play instructions before the game is completed; Collect Screenshots as you go; You can start working on your video before the game is completed. I got all this from the Game Design Rules here.

    Playable Game

    In order to judge your team’s game, we need to be able to play it! So we need an installable and playable game in the format for Phone

    Technical Requirements:

    1. All games must have been developed using Microsoft® XNA Game Studio 4.0 or later or using Silverlight technology. Visual Studio is no longer required but still an optional technology for you to use.
    2. Since your Team’s game is designed for the Windows Phone platform, it must be playable on a commercially available Windows Phone device, not only a phone emulator.
    3. Your team must include a. XAP file: a standard Windows Setup application to install your game on a Windows Phone.
    4. No source code is permitted and games will be disqualified if they are submitted as development projects.
    5. The game must be comprised of at least one (1) playable level, more than one is permissible and they do not have to be sequential levels. This playable level must illustrate the game play and features of the final game that your team would like to develop; final graphics are not required, but the Game Demo must represent the conceptual art direction of the game that you would like to develop.
    6. Your game may target any commercially available version of Windows Phone that is released by the end of Round 3 (Worldwide Qualifying), 3 May 2012.
    7. It is acceptable to support multiple languages in your game as long as English is one of the represented languages. If a translator is needed, you are responsible to procure and to make use of one.
    8. The content of the game must be equivalent to an Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) rating of “T” for Teen or lower. Mature games that would be rated above “T” for Teen will be disqualified and ineligible to continue in the competition).
    9. Remember: The content of the game must address a social cause connected to the Imagine Cup 2012 Theme: “Imagine a world where technology helps solve the toughest problems”.

    Helpful Hints:

    1. If your game supports multiple languages, you are advised to ensure the default language is English even if it’s changeable in the Options of your game.
    2. If you provide multiple levels and want the judges to play them, consider supplying “save game” files for the judge/player to be able to load from different points in your game.
    3. For more information on the ESRB Game Ratings and Descriptor Guide, please visit the ESRB website.
    4. Note that the rules clearly state that your game MUST be playable on an actual Windows Phone device, not just the development environment emulator.
    5. Review the scoring criteria to best optimize your gaming experience.

    Game Play Instructions

    Technical Requirements:

    1. Include either a game screen (.JPEG file) or text document in .DOC, .DOCX, .PDF or .TXT file format in a readme file.
    2. The Game Design Summary must be submitted in the English language. If a translator is needed, you are responsible to procure and to make use of one.

    Helpful Hints:

    1. The content of the Game must address a social cause connected to the 2012 Theme: “Imagine a world where technology helps solve the toughest problems”.
    2. This is an important element of your entry so the judges know how to play your game. If your game is complex, then make sure you take the time to explain how to play every aspect
    3. If your game is installed in a particular location or under a particular name or folder, ensure you list out the instructions on how to find and start your game.

    Game Video

    The Game Video is a video file showcasing your game. It must include a video screen capture of your Team’s game in action. This video can include narration, team introductions, and game presentation information to convey your game’s premise and intent as well as intended gameplay experiences. At a minimum, this must show your game in action.


    Technical Requirements:

    1. The video must include the Imagine Cup Intro and Imagine Cup Outro Clips. Clips can be downloaded at imaginecup.com.
    2. The Game Video length must not exceed seven (7) minutes, including the Imagine Cup Intro and Outro Clips.
    3. The Game Video must be submitted as an electronic file in one of the following file formats: .AVI, .WMV, .MPEG, .MP4, .XESC.
    4. The Game Video can be submitted in any language, however, if not in English, it must include English subtitles. If a translator is needed, you are responsible to procure and to make use of one.

    Helpful Hints:

    1. We recommend creating your screen capture using Microsoft Expression Encoder 4 Screen Capture which is available to students for free at DreamSpark.
    2. Regardless of language used, consider using subtitles to ensure judges can fully understand your video’s audio portion.
    3. While you must include some screen capture of your video in action, you should also showcase other elements that show your game in a positive light. For example:
      • If you have performed play-testing with your intended audience, you might include some video of that experience.
      • If you already have future plans for expanding on your game, you could provide samples or show off your models or storyboards in your game video.
      • You could introduce each of the team members and what their specialties or contributions were in the creation of the game.

    Game Design Summary or Game Storyboard

    You already did a first draft of this for Round 1, so this is just a chance for you to update that document. The Game Summary Document is an electronic text document that describes your Team’s game, the intent of your game, and details the unique game play features and how it aligns to the Imagine Cup 2012 Theme. You must include additional attributive information relating to third party content per the technical requirements below

    Technical Requirements:

    1. You must use the Game Design Summary Document Template.
    2. The summary must be a minimum of 600 characters including spaces.
    3. You must provide a name for your game. The name must be in the English language.
    4. The file format must be either a .DOC, .DOCX or .PDF, .RTF or .TXT file. This option does not allow .JPEG submission files.
    5. The content of the Game must address a social cause connected to the 2012 Theme: “Imagine a world where technology helps solve the toughest problems”.
    6. The Game Design Summary Document must be submitted in the English language. If a translator is needed, you are responsible to procure and to make use of one.
    7. The file may include images if you feel it conveys your message better, however, images are not required for the Game Design Summary Document.
    8. Important note about Copyright: Your Team’s entire entry must only include material (including source code – both open source and third party sourced, user interface, music, video or images) that you own or that you have permission from the copyright/trademark owner to use. Your Team’s entry may not include copyrighted materials (such as source code, user interface, background music, images or video) unless you own or have permission to use the materials. Ownership is not defined as purchasing a CD at a music store for replay, playing a copyright recording on your guitar or repurposing an application’s user interface - your Team’s entry will be disqualified if copyrighted materials, including but not limited to these examples, are a part of your entry without appropriate licensing or permissions. If you do use permissible copyrighted materials, you must include the permissions information by citing the artist/creator and license information in the Game Summary Document. Note that even material released under sites such as Creative Commons, common open source code licenses, and other similar licensing may need permission or acknowledgement as per the specific license. Note: your team’s entry will be disqualified if permissions information is not included as per the requirements in the specific Competition

    Andrew Parsons is the Game Design Captain this year, he can’t wait to see your entries and neither can we!

         
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