Transcending the Traditional Web

A blog about building compelling, mobile and web-enabled software solutions.

August, 2008

Posts
  • Transcending the Traditional Web

    The Web, the Power of Choice and the 2008 Beijing Olympics

    • 2 Comments

    I don't think anyone on the planet would dispute that the Olympics are a huge event attracting many people from a number of different walks of life and for a variety of reasons.  In a nutshell, the Olympics as an event is "big business".  This is especially true with respect to media coverage.  Every major news outlet on the globe converges on the host city to cover the biggest sporting spectacle in the world.

    While "traditional" media outlets continue to carry the lion's share of audience coverage in the form of television and print media, we are seeing a larger share of Olympic coverage being carried on the internet and in various different forms.  A lot of this has to do with providing the public with choice on how they consume the content.  The internet is different than other media channels as it provides a great deal of flexibility for people to choose what content they wish to consume and how they will consume it.  The immediacy of this choice is driving change in how people are watching the Beijing Olympics in particular.

    Unlike traditional print media or television coverage, the user is able to view or read coverage of the Olympics with a few clicks of a mouse.  While this in itself is not new, I think it's fair to say we're seeing a lot more people taking the internet more seriously with respect to being a premiere choice for keeping up to speed on the Olympics. 

    Take, for example, Canada and the United States.  Television coverage of the Olympics in these countries is provided by the CBC (in Canada) and by NBC (in the U.S.).  Both have exclusive broadcasting rights for the 2008 Beijing Olympics and they are providing a great deal of coverage on the internet in addition to their usual television broadcasting schedule.  That, it seems, was a good bet because early results are showing incredible growth for the internet as a core media channel for these two broadcasting companies for the Olympics.  There is a great article by William Houston on Canada's The Globe and Mail newspaper's website describing the increased traffic.  Basically, the CBC in Canada has been averaging around double the amount of traffic on their site compared to the same time last year and NBC in the U.S. has enjoyed much more traffic on it's site in four days of Olympic coverage than the entire amount of internet traffic for the Athens Olympics.

    Image of NBC's Olympics Player built with Microsoft Silverlight So why is this?  Well, the prevalence of the internet around the world continues to grow, therefore exposing a larger global population to the online coverage.  Also, the element of choice is a truly powerful one.  NBC, for example, is streaming live video of all events from the Olympics to anyone in the U.S. (restricted due to Olympic licensing issues) who wants to watch it through Microsoft's new Silverlight technology.  They have built their streaming video capabilities to include other great features such as Picture-in-Picture and additional content (such as archived footage and Olympian bio's) available at a click of a mouse.  The CBC is providing streaming video of their broadcast online via Flash  and providing access to similar non-live content as NBC. 

    The true message through all of this, however, is fairly easy to see.  The web has become a core platform for driving audiences to content and the barrier of entry for this platform (i.e.:  availability of the internet has reached critical mass and continues to grow) is crumbling.  The real challenge, however, will be to provide audiences with a compelling reason to want to go to their web properties ahead of other, more traditional media channels.  As the NBC Olympics web portal demonstrates, a rich interface allowing users a choice in how they  consume content is a sure way to drive your brand and message to a large and continually growing audience.

    -Paul

    Technorati Tags:  NBC Olympics, Silverlight

  • Transcending the Traditional Web

    Taking your first steps into Silverlight

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    In my previous post, I spoke of how Silverlight is bringing some great user experiences for viewing the Olympics on the web.  While it’s likely a large number of people reading this post have seen Silverlight even prior to the Olympics, you may be wondering how you can start learning Silverlight 2 and building compelling web solutions with it yourself.

    As you might expect, there are a number of great primers on how to build Silverlight applications.  If you’re new to Silverlight development, the best place to start is by going to Silverlight.net to get examples of what is available as well as visiting the Get Started tab.  It will tell you what you need to start building great Silverlight applications.

    For those of you that have already gone through that material, you may also want to take a look at the list of training videos available for free online below.  The list was compiled by my colleague Joe Stagner who has a great blog on building web solutions on the Microsoft platform.  The list of videos can also be found below:

    1. Silverlight - Hello World
    2. Silverlight - Anatomy of an Application
    3. Silverlight - The VS Environment
    4. Silverlight - Content Controls
    5. Silverlight - Built-In Controls
    6. Silverlight - Width, Height, Margins, Padding, Alignment
    7. Silverlight - Using a GridSplitter
    8. Silverlight - Grid Layout
    9. Silverlight - StackPanel Layout
    10. Silverlight - Canvas Layout
    11. Silverlight - Databinding UI to .NET Classes
    12. Silverlight - Simple Styles
    13. Silverlight - Custom Types in XAML
    14. Silverlight - Binding with Conversion
    15. Silverlight - List Based Data Binding
    16. Silverlight - Simple User Control
    17. Silverlight - Templating a Button
    18. Silverlight - Resources from XAP/DLL/Site Of Origin
    19. Silverlight - Animations & Storyboards
    20. Silverlight - Uploads with WebClient
    21. Silverlight - Downloads with WebClient
    22. Silverlight - Calling HTTPS Web Services
    23. Silverlight - Calling Web Services
    24. Silverlight - Making Cross Domain Requests
    25. Silverlight - Using HttpWebRequest
    26. Silverlight - File Dialogs and User Files
    27. Silverlight - Using Sockets
    28. Silverlight - Using Isolated Storage
    29. Silverlight - .NET Code Modifying HTML
    30. Silverlight - Using Isolated Storage Quotas
    31. Silverlight - Calling JavaScript from .NET
    32. Silverlight - Evaluating JavaScript from .NET Code
    33. Silverlight - Handling HTML Events in .NET Code
    34. Silverlight - Handling .NET Events in JavaScript
    35. Silverlight - Calling .NET from JavaScript
    36. Silverlight - Displaying a Custom Splash Screen
    37. Silverlight - Passing Parameters from your Web Page
    38. Silverlight - Loading Media at Runtime
    39. Silverlight - Dynamically Loading Assemblies/Code
    40. Silverlight - Reading/Writing XML
    41. Silverlight - Multiple Threads with BackgroundWorker
    42. Silverlight - Insert/Update/Delete with the DataGrid
    43. Silverlight - Getting Started with the DataGrid
    44. Silverlight - Embedding Custom Fonts

    Happy Learning!

    -Paul

    Technorati Tags:  Silverlight, Silverlight Training

  • Transcending the Traditional Web

    IE8: Goodness for Software Solutions Providers

    • 1 Comments

    [Cross-posted from the Canadian Developer Blog which I also blog on]

    If you build software solutions for a living, manage professional development teams or lead a software development company, there are a number of things that you are probably thinking about consistently on a day to day basis. 

    Two of these items likely include:

    • Productivity; either your own or your team’s
    • Driving Innovation; finding new and compelling ways to reach your customers

    If you build solutions that involve the end user making use of a web browser, you likely find both of the above items extremely challenging.  THis is particularly true given the very competitive market for web browsers out there.  There are a number of high-quality, high market share browsers out there today (including Internet Explorer and Firefox among others) that provide a great deal of functionality.  In many cases your web solution must support the majority of those browsers, which increases the complexities in creating compelling web solutions. The good news is that with IE8 some of the pressure on productivity and innovation can be alleviated.

    There are a number of new capabilities within IE8 that may surprise you in not only how they support you but enhance your business and work.  If you have used the Beta 1 release of Internet Explorer 8 you likely saw a few of these items, while as others are found in the new Beta 2 release which you may not have seen.

    Productivity Features

    One of the most talked about features is web standards compliance.  This is a big deal for a number of reasons.  If you are web application developer/provider, you are likely acutely aware of the pain caused by targeting multiple browser platforms.  While admittedly Microsoft’s past experience with web standards on Internet Explorer has been spotty, IE8 changes the game in this respect.  The development team for IE8 made standards-based browsing a priority when building this browser.  Why is this important?  Well, if you are able to target code to published standards, this eliminates the need for some of the special exception testing of your code under Internet Explorer.  If you code to standards, it will work in IE8.  Some of the standards supported in IE8 are found in the list below:

    Another productivity feature that was built into IE8 are the developer tools.  There is a developer toolbar built into IE8 natively that allows you to debug and analyze many of the components of your web application directly from the browser.  This includes ability to debug HTML, JavaScript and CSS, complete with debugging facilities such as breakpoints and variable value views as well as the ability to edit in realtime and view the changes in your browser.  These developer tools are a veritable boon for web developers as it allows them to debug client-side data and the like more quickly than with traditional development tools (such as Visual Studio or Expression Studio) alone.

    Figure 1:  A view of the IE8 developer tools

    Other productivity gains that Internet Explorer provides include:

    • AJAX Navigation Enhancements:  allows developers to manipulate the history functionality by using the windows.location.hash event so as to eliminate issues with the back button (thus reducing the amount of code required to check for data integrity issues)
    • DOM Storage:  allows developers to create a separate DOM storage area for each domain
    • Enhanced Presence/Connectivity Functionality:  IE8 supports the HTML 5 draft standard for determining whether the browser is connected to the network, thus eliminating or reducing the amount of effort to custom build this functionality

    Driving Innovation

    There are a number of features in IE8 that allow you to take your web solution to the next level.  One such feature is called Web Slices.  A Web Slice is an extension of your web solution that sits on the Favourites bar on IE8.  It allows you to push a dynamic “slice” of content to the browser without the user having to navigate to the site.  This allows you to create “at your fingertips” miniature applications relevant to your application  (such as product trackers and dashboard/KPI metrics) and provides users with a compelling reason to use your application.

    Figure 2:  An example of a Web Slice tracking products on eBay

    Another example of how IE8 allows you to build very innovative and different solutions is the use of Accelerators on IE8.  Accelerators are features on the browser that enhance the experience of your users by providing useful utilities that can be used with your application at the user’s fingertips.  A great example of this would be the ability to get a map of an address as a hover button with no extra coding required on your part.  This allows you to create truly compelling mashups for your web solution without the need to dramatically increase the coding required on the part of your development team.

    Figure 3:  Using the Microsoft Live Maps Accelerator

    Finally (although not the last new innovative feature of IE8), there is the InPrivate feature within IE8.  This feature allows users to define which websites the browser should not keep information on (such as history, cookies and temporary files).  This is a very compelling feature for applications that handle sensitive or private data.  By using IE8, you can give your customers and users further assurances that the data stored by the browser for that session will be completely removed and not accessible once the user has finished using the application.

    So as you can see, Internet Explorer 8 represents more than a “typical browser release”.  There’s a lot under the covers in IE8 for not only your users but also for your development and business marketing teams.  We truly believe that IE8 changes the game for web solutions providers such as yourselves and can help you grow your business by allowing you to harness the power of the various new features in IE8 today.

    While other browsers such as Firefox are garnering a great deal of attention for being great browsers (and with good reason), IE8 has stepped up to this challenge and brought a world-class browser to the user. 

    Useful Resource Links for Developing Applications for IE8

    -Paul

    Technorati Tags:  IE8, Internet Explorer 8, Web Development

  • Transcending the Traditional Web

    Welcome to my blog!

    • 1 Comments

    Hello!  Welcome to my blog!

    Since this is the first post on my blog, I figured the best thing for me to do is introduce myself and the blog properly.

    First off, my name is Paul Laberge and I'm a Web Platform Advisor for Microsoft Canada.  Since my title is pretty fuzzy and means a lot of nothing to most people, let me explain what I do and hopefully that helps clear things up.  Basically, my role at Microsoft is to help partners and customers that build web-enabled solutions for their customers understand how our platform can help them build great web applications.  In other words, if you build websites, web applications or desktop applications that use the web in some form or fashion, my job is to help you understand how the Microsoft platform is one you should consider for your solutions.  If you have a question around our web platform or how to partner and grow your business with Microsoft my mailbox is always open.

    As I said, one of my main focuses in my role is to explain the value proposition of the Microsoft platform as it pertains to web-enabled applications and their development.  That is the reason for this blog.  In a nutshell, I'll be discussing topics related to web-enabled applications and how you build them on the Microsoft platform.

    As time goes by, I'm sure the themes and topics may evolve into more focus or to include different or additional information, but the topic of building web-enabled solutions will remain central to this blog.

    So, in conclusion, I am glad you visited my blog and I am looking forward to the conversations we will have!

    -Paul

  • Transcending the Traditional Web

    Software and Services in Action: Microsoft Research's Worldwide Telescope

    • 1 Comments

     

    Software as a Service (SaaS for short) is a popular topic these days and for good reason.  With the ubiquity of the web and the software to drive great applications on the web, it's a paradigm a lot of organizations and people are looking at to drive business.  In short, SaaS is the process of creating an web application where multiple customers use the same central engine hosting a web application.  There's great examples of this out there already, some of which you may know.  Some of the most notable ones are applications like Facebook, Flickr, Salesforce.com, Hotmail and others. 

    The interesting thing about this paradigm is that it's changing already.  Although SaaS is not a new concept, there are people looking at expanding SaaS into a paradigm that is multi-channel as opposed to web-only (i.e.:  browser-based access, desktop application access, mobile access, set-top box access, etc.).  This spin on SaaS is often called Software and Services (S+S for short) is actually a superset of what SaaS is and it is picking up a lot of steam in both the business world and the consumer world.  The idea here is to bring the power of cloud and web-based services to whichever platform or channel you are using, rather than just the browser.  A great example of S+S isHosted Exchange (with access to an email client such as Outlook or Thunderbird).

    With the definitions out of the way, I want to bring to your attention to purpose of this post, which is Microsoft Research's Worldwide Telescope.  If you're an amateur (or professional!) astronomer, this application will likely interest you.  It's a free download (but currently it works on Windows machines only).  In a nutshell, it's a Windows desktop application that provides the user with access to the night sky using images and data from various astronomical data repositories (such as the Hubble Space Telescope image catalogue and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey).  The image below is a screenshot of the application, showing an image of the Pleiades star cluster.

     

    As you can see, the interface is very rich.  This in of itself doesn't make it an S+S application, however.  As I stated above, this application uses web-based services to display the images and data that you see on the screen.  In fact, it mashes up a number of different services to provide access to the data displayed on the screen.  In the example above, it's consuming Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) data for the images and then another service to display the name of various celestial bodies (such as the highlighted star Maia). 

    Some of the other S+S features is provides are ones that you may not expect.  For example, many modern personal telescopes have motorized movement mechanisms that allow the telescope to move and focus on the sky in an automated way.  This software provides connectivity to telescopes (this can be found in the Telescope tab at the top of the screen) that allows telescopes compliant with ASCOM (a software interface commonly used with telescope movement mechanisms) to move to view celestial objects you see on the screen.

    While this application is not a business application, it does have a lot of appeal for consumer and educational audiences.  It is also a great example of some of the types of applications that use S+S tenets to provide a richer, fuller experience for the user.

    If you are interested in learning more about S+S-enabled applications, there are a number of great resources for you to look at (in addition to this blog, which will be providing S+S discussions as one of the topics it will cover).  Below is a list of good starting places for S+S:

    -Paul

     

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