Delay's Blog is the blog of David Anson, a Microsoft developer who works with C#, XAML, HTML, and Azure.
Yesterday, Microsoft announced its Surface product to much buzz and excitement. The demo videos I saw featured a "photos on a table" user interface that displayed a handful of photos sitting on the Surface. The interface allowed people to easily move the virtual photos around by touching them in the center and sliding them to a different location on the screen. By touching the corners instead, photos could be sized and rotated with ease.
It struck me that this interface would be pretty easy to replicate with Silverlight and I decided to do so as a learning exercise. I spent some time on this last night and tonight and came up with an application that looks like this:
You can click here (or on the image above) to play with the application in your browser. The code's quite simple; click here to download the source code and play around with it yourself! (To build the project, you'll want to use Visual Studio Orcas Beta 1 and the Silverlight Tools.)
It's pretty obvious that XAML lets you do some pretty neat things with ease - I look forward to even more compelling new interfaces based on Silverlight and WPF!
Since getting involved with Silverlight and finding out the XPS document type WPF enables has XAML at its core, I've been wondering how Silverlight would do as a lightweight XPS viewer.
First, a bit of background: WPF is the Windows Presentation Foundation and represents a new approach to UI for Windows. XPS refers to the XML Paper Specification, a device-independent file format for flexible document representation (think PDF) that's part of Office 2007 and .NET 3.0. WPF offers rich support for displaying XPS documents via its DocumentViewer and XpsDocument classes (among others). Because the 1.1 Alpha release doesn't currently include the relevant classes, Silverlight wouldn't appear to be well suited for XPS document display at first glance...
However, Silverlight does have the Downloader class which includes support for packages (for the purposes of this discussion, packages are basically just ZIP archives). Since an XPS document is really just a package, and the core document format XPS uses is XAML, and Silverlight speaks XAML (well, at least a subset of it!), maybe it's not such a stretch to do XPS with Silverlight after all.
I thought it would be a neat exercise to try to write an XPS viewer with the publically available Silverlight 1.1 Alpha bits so I gave it a try and ended up with an application I call SimpleSilverlightXpsViewer:
Go ahead and click here (or on the image above) to play around with the application in your browser. If you find yourself wondering how it works, just click here to download the complete source code/resources and play around with it yourself! (To build the SimpleSilverlightXpsViewer project, you'll want to use Orcas Beta 1 and the Silverlight Tools.)
Of course, this is just a proof-of-concept application built on an Alpha platform, so there are some rough edges. :) Some notes are in order:
While SimpleSilverlightXpsViewer is a cute proof-of-concept application I enjoyed writing, it is hardly the final word on Silverlight XPS support. (Hey, I'm not even on the Silverlight team!) I don't know what the official plans are for more formal XPS support in the Silverlight platform, but my experience with SimpleSilverlightXpsViewer suggests that most of the pieces are already in place for a pretty reasonable XPS experience with the Silverlight 1.1 Alpha. Throw in a couple of tweaks to Silverlight (and/or SimpleSilverlightXpsViewer!), and it should be possible to provide a pretty compelling XPS-like user experience for Silverlight!
During his keynote at the MIX07 conference in Las Vegas, Scott Guthrie showed off some of the power of Microsoft's recently announced Silverlight platform. In particular, the ability to easily run managed code in the web browser - coupled with a powerful rendering engine - seems like it will to radically change the landscape of the web. My team had the privilege of writing the Silverlight Airlines demonstration he used to show off just how easy it is to develop with Silverlight. Demoed on stage, it looked something like the following image:
Now that your appetite is whetted, go ahead and click here (or on the image above) to view the demo in your browser with the Silverlight 1.1 Alpha thanks to the seamless cross-browser, cross-platform support that Silverlight provides.
When our manager Shawn Burke asked us to put this demo together, my coworker Ted Glaza and I had practically no experience with Silverlight or WPF. So we spent about a week playing around with the technology to learn how it worked. By that time, the general concept of the demo was fairly well established and we spent time the next week developing the foundations of the application. Before long, we had a working demo that we showed off to Scott. The third week was spent incorporating visual feedback from a designer and adding some finishing touches. For those of you keeping track at home, that's one cool app written by two developers in just three weeks - beginning with nothing and building on top of a platform that was still being developed - pretty compelling, I think!
In the spirit of openness and learning, you can click here to download the complete source code for this demo application and play around with it yourself!
A few notes on the application:
The Silverlight Airlines demo was a fun project to work on - I look forward to be seeing (and doing!) a lot more with Silverlight in the coming days!
PS - Since the keynote presentation, there has been some interest in reusing the calendar control. Beyond making the source code available here, I may write a follow-up blog post going into more detail about the calendar itself. As a quick teaser: it's capable of more sophisticated display than what's in the demo application. :)
PPS - If you watched the Scott Guthrie keynote, you probably saw that there was a time Scott tried to switch the display screen over to the Mac to demonstrate something and it took a while for the conference's A/V folks to actually make the switch. A couple of people have asked if this delay was due to a problem with the Mac or Silverlight. I happen to have been sitting backstage mere inches away from the Mac in question (conferences use KVM switches to keep all the demo machines backstage) and I can assure you that there was no technical issue with the Mac or Silverlight. Aside from the conference tech taking a little while to switch the display over, there were no technical glitches during the demo. :)
We've just made available the AJAX Control Toolkit Patch Utility, a simple ClickOnce application that makes it easy for *anyone* to contribute fixes to the AJAX Control Toolkit!
Background: We have a very active user community that's using the Toolkit in lots of ways we never imagined. Sometimes people come up with better ways of doing things and occasionally they bump into a new issue we didn't know about. When questions show up on the support forum, it's great to see someone follow up with a change to the Toolkit that resolves the issue. These community contributions are fantastic - we always try to add a pointer to the associated work item for the issue so we won't forget about it. However, there is a fair amount of effort involved in merging such fixes into the Development branch of the source code and that effort can delay the incorporation of proposed changes. The new Patch Utility is designed to streamline the process so it will be easier for people to contribute fixes and easier for the Toolkit team to incorporate them into the next release of the Toolkit. By making the process simpler and enabling the inclusion of more community fixes, everyone benefits by having a better Toolkit that they're less likely to have trouble with!
How patching works: The AJAX Control Toolkit Patch Utility Guide contains all the details - along with screenshots that walk through everything. The process itself is pretty simple. Once a Toolkit user identifies a problem, he/she runs the Patch Utility in "Create a Patch" mode which walks through the steps of downloading the latest Development branch of source code for the Toolkit. The user makes whatever changes to the Toolkit are necessary to fix the problem and alters the automated test cases to verify the new behavior. Then the user runs the Patch Utility again in "Prepare Patch for Submission" mode which collects the changes that were made, gives the user an opportunity to review them in a file differencing tool, and generates a compact ZIP archive containing the user's patch. The user attaches the ZIP file to the existing work item that corresponds to the issue he/she fixed and that's it!
What happens next: On the back end, we have a process running which periodically looks at outstanding work items for new patches. When a new patch is found, a set of "check-in-able" changes is automatically created for that patch. What that means for the Toolkit team is that it's easy for any of us to review the patch, merge it with the very latest version of code in the Development branch, test it on our machines, and check the patch in for inclusion with the next Toolkit release!
What changes make good patches: Bug fixes and minor enhancements to existing code make great patches because the overall amount of change is small and the effect of the change is fairly self-contained and easily testable. On the other hand, broad changes like the addition of an entirely new control or the refactoring of a significant chunk of code would not make good patches due to the widespread effects of such changes (we have a different process in place for such things; email us if you want to add a new control).
The Patch Utility enables anyone to make fixes to the Toolkit - if you're a Toolkit user and you've got a fix floating around on your machine, please use the AJAX Control Toolkit Patch Utility to submit it! And if you have any suggestions for things we can improve please send your feedback to us!
By default, the AJAX Control Toolkit's AutoComplete extender doesn't have a notion of "words" and will try to auto-complete whatever text is currently in the text box, treating what's there as a single "word". One request that has come up a few times was for the ability to auto-complete multiple words individually. According to the comments of that work item, it looks like someone's made a set of proposed changes to do just that! It's great to have such an involved user community!! (Please note: The work item comments suggest those changes don't work in all browsers.)
One thing I'd been meaning to do was write a quick sample of how to get reasonably good multiple-word auto-complete without making any modifications to the released AutoComplete extender. In other words, you can use the latest official Toolkit release (10301 in this case) and get some nice multi-word completion today. The key observation here is that the Web Service used to provide the list of candidate words has all the information it needs to do multi-word completion as well:
The complete code for the sample page is included below for anyone to look at or modify for their purposes. A few notes about the code:
Here's the complete ASPX file:
Earlier today I presented two talks about the AJAX Control Toolkit at the ASP.NET Connections conference in Orlando, Florida: AMS305: ASP.NET AJAX Control Toolkit: See How to Take Advantage of the ASP.NET AJAX Control Toolkit and AMS304: ASP.NET AJAX Control Toolkit Unleashed: Creating Rich Client-Side Controls and Components.
The content for these talks was based on stuff I've previously presented at TechReady4 in February and ASP.NET Connections in November of last year. However, this time around I was able to go into quite a bit more detail because I had over twice as much time to speak and do demos. The introductory AMS305 talk took the ImageFlix sample I've used before and expanded on it to demonstrate the Toolkit's new support for ASP.NET Skins/Themes and advanced animations followed by a quick walkthrough of what to do when things don't work like you'd expect (demonstrated here by adding a DropShadow to the popup panel). The more advanced AMS304 talk used an updated FontSize extender demonstration like the one that was demonstrated at the November ASP.NET Connections and included an overview of working with the Toolkit project, highlighting the automated testing framework and new localization support. Overall, there are about 15 completely new slides with fresh content, covering topics such as localization, automated testing, and more.
I've attached the slide decks and the demo content for both talks to this post so that anyone who's interested can have a look at the slides or play around with the demos.
I hope those of you who attended today enjoyed the talk and learned more about the Toolkit - it was great to have an opportunity to spend time with you!
Yesterday I mentioned a quick C# program I wrote to help analyze storage space requirements. There was some interest in how that program worked, so I'm posting the complete source code for anyone to use.
I've previously blogged about my data storage/backup strategy. Briefly, I've got one big drive in my home server that stores all the data my family cares about: mostly music, pictures, and videos (with a little bit of other stuff for good measure). To protect the data, I've got another equally big external drive that I connect occasionally and use for backups by simply mirroring the content of the internal drive.
As things stand today, the internal drive is 320GB and the external drive is 300GB, but I've hit the wall and am almost out of space to add new files. Looking at hard drive prices these days, the sweet spot (measured in $/GB) seems to be with 500GB drives at about $140 (PATA or SATA). Any smaller than that and the delta from 300GB isn't enough to be interesting - any larger than that and the cost really goes up.
I was already prepared to buy a new drive every year or so to allow for growth, so I was curious if getting a 500GB drive now would do the trick. I wrote a quick program to look at every file I backup and tally up the size according to the date the file was created. The C# program walks the whole directory tree, sums the sizes by date, and writes out a simple CSV file with the results. The idea here is to chart the rate at which I'm adding data in order to predict when I'd run out of space next. (Yes, it's easy to come up with more sophisticated heuristics, but this is really just a back-of-the-envelope calculation and doesn't need to be perfect to be meaningful.)
Last night I opened the CSV file in Excel and charted the data. The resulting chart looks like this:
The blue line represents the cumulative size of the data I had at each point in time (horizontal axis) measured in GB (vertical axis) - you can see that I'm just above 300GB today. The red line is Excel's exponential trend line for the same data - it matches the blue line almost perfectly, so it seems pretty safe to say that my data storage needs are increasing exponentially. I was kind of afraid of that, because it means the 500GB drives I've been considering are likely to fill up within the next 8 months!
Clearly, I need to be prepared to spend more on hard drives than I'd initially planned to - or else I'm going to need to significantly change how I do things. I've got some ideas I'm still considering, but charting this data was a good wake-up call that drive capacity isn't increasing as rapidly as I might like. :)
I think that data storage and backup are issues that will affect all of us pretty soon (if they're not already). Backing up to DVDs doesn't scale well once you need more than 10 or so DVDs, and backing up over the network just doesn't seem practical when you're talking about numbers this large. Even ignoring the need to backup, simply storing all the data you have is rapidly becoming an issue. With downloadable HD movie/TV content becoming popular, high megapixel still/video cameras being commonplace, and fast Internet connections becoming the norm, it seems to me that content is outpacing storage right now.
Here's hoping for a quantum leap in storage technology!
Updated on 2007/03/14: I've just posted the source code for the program I wrote to gather this data.
A short while ago we made available the 10301 release of the AJAX Control Toolkit. With this release, we managed to add some great core functionality, a couple of new controls, and a bunch of bug fixes for popular issues (as identified by our user community in the support forum and online issue tracker).
The 10301 release includes two new controls:
We also managed to add three pieces of core functionality that users have been asking for:
And, with the help of our contributors, we fixed a bunch of bugs along the way...
We hope you like the new release!!
Recall that you can sample any of the controls right now (no install required). You can also browse the project web site, download the latest Toolkit, and start creating your own controls and/or contributing to the project!
If you have any feedback, please share it with us on the support forum (or email me)!
Earlier today I presented the DEV304: ASP.NET AJAX Control Toolkit Unleashed: Creating Rich Client-Side Controls and Components session at Microsoft's TechReady4 conference here in Seattle. TechReady is a Microsoft-only conference that non-Redmond-based employees attend to get an opportunity to meet with product team members (typically Redmond-based) and catch up on all the new technology each year. Most of the session content is Microsoft-only, but because the presentation I gave today had no private information, I'm posting the (sanitized) slide deck and demos here for everyone to use (note: the attachment is at the bottom of this post).
If you saw the content for my ASP.NET Connections talk a few months ago, the slide content for today's TechReady4 talk was very similar. The first demo was identical and the second (new) demo was just a quick overview of the sample web site that comes with the Toolkit. However, the third demo was completely new and demonstrated how to encapsulate existing script into a new Toolkit control. For demonstration purposes, I took a simple web page with a WPF/E (February CTP) control (the use of which requires two <script>/src tags and a <script>/code block) and showed how to wrap that all into a single "one-liner" Toolkit component which can be more easily used/maintained/added to a page. Those of you who are paying close attention will realize that I took my inspiration from a similar effort by my manager, Shawn Burke - though I wrote all my demo code from scratch so I'd be more familiar with it. :) The final result is a pretty handy way of handling WPF/E controls and folks are welcome to use it however they want!
I hope those of you who attended today enjoyed the talk and learned more about the Toolkit - it was great to have an opportunity to meet with you!
PS - We're always looking for more contributors and additional control ideas, so please let me know if you want to contribute!