Transcending the Traditional Web

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

November, 2008

Posts
  • Transcending the Traditional Web

    Silverlight 2 and Building Rich Web Applications Today

    • 1 Comments

    A couple of weeks ago, Microsoft released Silverlight 2 as a Release to Web (RTW) product.  For us at Microsoft, this was exciting news because it represented a major milestone in presenting to you as solution developers a platform for building rich, immersive experiences on the web.

    I'm not going to go through each of the features in Silverlight 2 that you have probably heard already from various sources, but I did want to take some time to talk about a few of the things that you may have missed in all the hype and announcements or not realized was possible with Silverlight in general.

    Tool Support

    Visual Web Developer 2008 Express

    It used to be that you needed Visual Studio Standard or above to be able to create Silverlight applications with minimal configuration and the like.  Sure, you could employ certain hacks to make Silverlight work in other tools but this was clunky and didn't lead to a great experience.  With the release of Silverlight 2 RTW, you now have the ability to create Silverlight 2 applications not only with Visual Studio Standard and above, but now also with Visual Web Developer 2008 Express (which is entirely free, both to download and use without royalties).

    Eclipse

    If you use Eclipse as your development UI of choice, you now have the ability to build Silverlight 2 applications using the Eclipse Tools for Silverlight plug-in.  This is the result of a partnership Microsoft created with Eclipse plug-in maker Soyatec and represents a significant step forward in Microsoft's commitment to interoperability.

    Expression Blend 2 SP1

    Many of you who build Silverlight 2 applications probably already know this but XAML, while extremely flexible and complete with respect to expressing user interfaces for Silverlight (and WPF for that matter) is not particularly easy to manipulate, the WPF Designer feature in Visual Studio 2008 notwithstanding.  This is especially true if you plan on providing animation capabilities in your Silverlight application. For this reason, Microsoft created Expression Blend which is an interactive design tool for building great UI's for WPF and Silverlight.  The problem with this tool is that you needed a special version of Expression Blend 2 in the past in order to build Silverlight applications with it.  With the release of Silverlight 2, Microsoft has forgone this separate version of Blend 2 and create Expression Blend 2 SP1 which provides out-of-the-box Silverlight support.  As the SP1 designation alludes to, this is a free update to anyone that has a license of Expression Blend 2.  You can download SP1 for Blend 2 here.

    Silverlight Toolkit

    The Silverlight Toolkit is a collection of controls you can use within your Silverlight 2 application.  While not yet complete (we expect to have around 100 controls within the toolkit when all is said and done), there are a large number of extremely important controls that are available in the toolkit now, including:  TreeView, DockPanel, WrapPanel, ViewBox, Expander, NumericUpDown and Autocomplete.  Some of the future controls that will be included in the toolkit are DataGrid, Radio Button, CheckBox and DatePickerCharting among others.

    Features

    XAML

    I mentioned XAML a little earlier in this post, but I wanted to mention something else about it.  While it is true that XAML is extremely rich and capable in expressing user interfaces in XML format, that isn't the half of it's real power.  What makes XAML truly special is that it is an equal citizen with .NET code in defining objects and properties for your Silverlight application.  That means that any object, like a Button created in the XAML code can be manipulated through .NET code.  Likewise, .NET code can create a Button object to be used in the presentation layer of your Silverlight application. 

     

    Alternative Communication Methods

    While HTTP is a great, general protocol for most things available on the web, there are occasions where it doesn't make the best medium for transmitting information back and forth.  If you have a Silverlight application that does a great deal of talking back and forth with the server, you have the opportunity to take advantage of the power of sockets in Silverlight in order to do that communication. 

    Another technology you can use in your Silverlight applications is Windows Communications Foundation (WCF).  WCF allows you to build Silverlight applications that have robust communication capabilities back to the server.  While you don't need WCF for a Silverlight application to communicate with a server, the technology provides a great deal of goodness (like secure message transfer, custom protocol creation and robust web services implementation)  that you can use with your applications.  There are some good tutorials on WCF on Silverlight starting here (it's a five-part series of screencasts showing you what you need to know) and there's a great blog on WCF/Web Services enabled Silverlight applications here.

    .NET Language Support

    Because the Silverlight 2 plug-in for the browser contains a factored subset of the .NET framework, you can build your Silverlight apps using the power of .NET (and with .NET skills you may already have if you build .NET-enabled solutions).  Because the .NET framework is largely language-independent, this means you can code your Silverlight application in your language of choice.  This includes C#, VB.NET, IronRuby, IronPython, JScript, etc.  The choice is yours.

    These are just some of the features of Silverlight 2 that I think are important but may not be getting as much airtime as other features.  I hope you found some of these points interesting and enlightening.

    Are you building a Silverlight 2 application?  Let me know!

    -Paul

    Technorati Tags:  Rich Internet Applications, Silverlight

  • Transcending the Traditional Web

    Finding Opportunities in a Recession Economy, PART 1

    • 1 Comments

    Without a doubt, most of us are experiencing the most serious economic recession in our lifetimes.  There's an awful lot of uncertainty that goes with that; everything from our retirement savings, disposable income and job security. 

    IT as an industry is certainly not immune to these worries and as professionals in this space, I'm sure the concerns I have are similar to those that you are facing.  So, in stressful times like these, what are some of the things you can do to be successful and how can Microsoft help you achieve that success?

    Well, to answer that question, let's take a look at it from a few different angles.  First, there's the personal angle (i.e.:  how do you make yourself more marketable and valuable in recession economy?).  Second there's established business angle (i.e.:  how can I make the business more efficient with IT?).  Third, there's the start-up angle (i.e.:  how can I launch a new business and make it successful?).  Let's take a look at each of these angles separately through 3 separate yet connected blog post.  This post, the first in the series, will focus on Personal Success in a Recession.

    Personal Success in a Recession

    Everyone in IT knows that it's tough to keep up to speed with all the new technologies that are being released.  Once you've learned one technology, another always seems to hit the market and gain buzz.

    The trick is to really embrace the idea that learning is a lifelong activity.  The reason why this is so important (especially in times such as these) is because with these new skills you are more marketable.  When there is momentum behind a new technology, you may be better positioned to hit the ground running with the new technology.  A great example of this from the Microsoft perspective is Silverlight.  We are seeing a lot of excitement in the marketplace for it and businesses are really seeing value in it for building interactive visualizations.  This presents great opportunities to you if you are a developer or a designer to expand your skillset and have knowledge of a new, in-demand technology in your toolbox.

    Microsoft provides a number of resources to help you get up to speed more quickly on our platform.  Some are local to Canada and some are worldwide.  Below are some of these resources:

    • TechDays:  TechDays is a Microsoft training conference that is held in cities across Canada.  It focuses on providing in-depth sessions on Microsoft technologies that you can use today.  While the Toronto and Montreal stops of the conference have already past, you can still register for the other cities (Ottawa, Calgary, Winnipeg and Vancouver).
    • Developer Training:  Through MSDN (Microsoft's primary portal for all things developer on the Microsoft Platform), Microsoft offers a number of Hands-On Labs, webcasts and tutorials for various technologies.
    • Technology Portals:  There are a number of specific portals for various Web and Software + Services technologies that are part of the Microsoft development platform.  Good examples of this include the ASP.NET Portal, the Silverlight Portal and the Windows Client and WPF Portal.
    • Open Source:  Microsoft is often perceived as anti-open source, which is actually completely wrong.  We have a fundamental interoperability strategy that is core to our work.  This also includes CodePlex, which is our open source repository where developers can grab applications and code that exist under open source license.
    • Designers:  Historically, designers were not part of our ecosystem because Microsoft did not have tools that could legitimately support their work.  With the advent of Silverlight and WPF, we introduced Expression Studio 2 years ago to give designers the ability to create truly interactive applications on the web and on Windows.  Accompanying this is our Expression portal which provides great information on the Expression suite of tools as well as tutorials, forums and online training.
    • Free Tools:  In addition to training materials and information, we also offer some great free tools that are good to help you learn our platform as well as the ability to create software solutions that are royalty-free from a Microsoft perspective.  These tools, known as the Express set of tools include Visual Web Developer 2008 Express (for building ASP.NET websites and Silverlight applications), Visual C# 2008 Express (for building desktop applications with C# as well as C# class libraries), Visual Basic 2008 Express (for building desktop applications in VB as well as VB class libraries), Visual C++ 2008 Express (for building managed and non-managed desktop applications as well as C++ class libraries) and SQL Server 2008 Express (our free version of the SQL Server 2008 database system)

     

    -Paul

    Technorati Tags:  Recession, Recession and IT, Developer, Microsoft

  • Transcending the Traditional Web

    Finding Opportunities in a Recession Economy, PART 2

    • 1 Comments

    Note:  This is the second post in a three post series on succeeding as a professional in IT during a recession.

    Without a doubt, most of us are experiencing the most serious economic recession in our lifetimes.  There's an awful lot of uncertainty that goes with that; everything from our retirement savings, disposable income and job security. 

    IT as an industry is certainly not immune to these worries and as professionals in this space, I'm sure the concerns I have are similar to those that you are facing.  So, in stressful times like these, what are some of the things you can do to be successful and how can Microsoft help you achieve that success?

    Well, to answer that question, let's take a look at it from a few different angles.  First, there's the personal angle (i.e.:  how do you make yourself more marketable and valuable in recession economy?).  Second there's established business angle (i.e.:  how can I make the business more efficient with IT?).  Third, there's the start-up angle (i.e.:  how can I launch a new business and make it successful?).  Let's take a look at each of these angles separately through 3 separate yet connected blog posts.  This post, the second in the series, will focus on Retaining Momentum for Established Business in a Recession.

    Retaining Momentum for an Established Business in a Recession

    Staying ahead of the curve as a business in this economy is really tough.  Cost cutting is a common theme and finding ways of doing more with less is becoming more and more a way of life.

    Development Tools

    Microsoft's tools and platform are built to streamline the process of building great solutions.  Visual Studio 2008, for example, allows development teams (including application developers, architects, testers and DBAs) to collaborate on projects as well as deliver the solution more quickly. 

    Collaboration and Line of Business

    Our server software allows you to potentially save costs that are traditionally associated with day-to-day business.  A great example of this would be our Unified Communications platform.  Business travel is something that will never go away, but our Unified Communications solution with technologies such as LiveMeeting and Office Communicator, can reduce the need for employees to travel.  You can also manage your telephony infrastructure with Unified Communications as it is VoIP-enabled.

    Another platform that may surprise you with respect to increasing the productivity of employees is the Office 2007 platform.  There are two aspects of this - desktop and server. 

    The server components include Microsoft Office Sharepoint Server (with the unfortunate acronym of MOSS) and Microsoft Exchange.  Sharepoint provides an enterprise-ready content management and collaboration platform that allows your employees to access the most up-to-date information and share ideas with others.  Microsoft Exchange gives employees access to email literally anywhere and anytime.  Regardless of location, employees have access to email on their desktop (using a mail client such as Outlook 2007), securely over the internet (through Outlook Web Access or OWA) and through mobile devices such as smartphones.  The agility that these two server products offer allows employees to be agile and respond to business opportunities quickly.

    The desktop component includes Microsoft Office 2007.  Microsoft offers a number of versions of the Office 2007 suite to fit your business needs.  That way you are not required to pay for functionality you don't necessarily require.  It also is extremely customizable.  With the introduction of Office Business Applications (OBA for short), you can now seamlessly integrate backoffice data into Microsoft Office.  This is extremely valuable as it allows employees to access and manipulate data using familiar tools (such as Excel), reducing training requirements and potentially reducing complexity in data transfer processes by eliminating some third party applications for things like reporting.

    Manageability

    Virtualization is a concept that is continuing to pick up steam.  Microsoft's virtualization strategy focuses on five areas:  server/hardware virtualization, application virtualization, storage virtualization, desktop virtualization and presentation virtualization. Microsoft's solutions in each of these areas is focused on allowing businesses to reduce bottom-line costs through a number of ways, including:

    • rationalizing the amount of hardware required to run line of business applications
    • lowering the number of installed software products on desktops
    • increasing the manageability of servers and desktops from a central location

    Microsoft System Center is another administrative tool that can help manage adminstrative costs associated to IT.  While associated to our virtualization strategy, it offers a number of benefits to IT departments including:

    • Configuration Management:  Allows IT departments to centrally manage the configuration and provisioning of software to the company in a controlled manner
    • Compliance:  Central management of all servers with respect to ensuring compliance to policies driven by the business (such as security policies) as well as other compliance pressures such as regulatory compliance (e.g.:  SOX, HIPAA, FISMA, etc.)
    • Monitoring:  Ability to monitor the health of servers from a centralized location and alert administrators when an issue arises
    • Data Protection:  manage the backup and recovery processes for multiple servers in a systematic fashion, both for physical and virtualized environments

    Windows Vista

    I'll admit it - Windows Vista has been getting hit hard with FUD around its value as a desktop operating system.  The interesting thing is that there is much evidence to the contrary that states that businesses that use Windows Vista actually have a lower TCO than those that use other desktop operating systems (including Windows XP).  For example, a whitepaper published by Wipro and GCR Custom Research titled Reducing the TCO with Windows Vista states that the average cost savings vs. Windows XP for mobile notebooks deployed within an organization is $251 per notebook.

    It's also the most secure operating system Microsoft has produced.  Loss of data through theft, subversion or even accidental data loss is expensive and also poses potential costs associated with it including fines (in the case of privacy breaches) as well as loss of reputation.  The Windows Vista One-Year Vulnerability Report shows "that researchers found and disclosed significantly fewer vulnerabilities in Windows Vista than either it predecessor product, Windows XP, or other operating systems such as Red Hat Enterprise Linux, Ubuntu, and Apple Mac OS X 10.4" (page 19 of the report). 

    Finally, with increasing costs associated to energy (and even if energy prices may be relaxing somewhat from all-time highs), technologies that reduce their energy footprint are certainly useful in reducing costs associated with IT.  To that end, many people don't realize that Windows Vista's enhanced sleep mode features and smart use of power can save a surprising amount of money in the form of energy savings.  A white paper from Microsoft outlines some of the potential savings and on page 6 of the report states that a typical Pentium IV running Windows Vista with a 17" LCD monitor can save $55.63 per year compared to the same PC running Windows XP.

    -Paul

    Technorati Tags:  Recession, Recession and IT, Developer, Microsoft

  • Transcending the Traditional Web

    Finding Opportunities in a Recession Economy, PART 3

    • 1 Comments

    Note:  This is the third post in a three post series on succeeding as a professional in IT during a recession.

    Without a doubt, most of us are experiencing the most serious economic recession in our lifetimes.  There's an awful lot of uncertainty that goes with that; everything from our retirement savings, disposable income and job security. 

    IT as an industry is certainly not immune to these worries and as professionals in this space, I'm sure the concerns I have are similar to those that you are facing.  So, in stressful times like these, what are some of the things you can do to be successful and how can Microsoft help you achieve that success?

    Well, to answer that question, let's take a look at it from a few different angles.  First, there's the personal angle (i.e.:  how do you make yourself more marketable and valuable in recession economy?).  Second there's established business angle (i.e.:  how can I make the business more efficient with IT?).  Third, there's the start-up angle (i.e.:  how can I launch a new business and make it successful?).  Let's take a look at each of these angles separately through 3 separate yet connected blog posts.  In this third and final post in the series, I will focus on Launching a Start-Up Business in a Recession.

    Launching a Start-Up Business in a Recession

    Yesterday a conference for Start-Ups called Startup Empire was held in Toronto.  Microsoft was one of the sponsors of the event and my colleague David Crow, a bit of a rockstar in the Canadian startup community, was one of the organizers.

    The tone of this conference was a bit different than your typical startup event, mainly because of the shape our global economy is in.  That being said, it's interesting to note that the speakers at this conference see great opportunities for startups to thrive in a situation like this, but you need to be ready to fail, too..

    My boss, Mark Relph, also notes some wise learnings for startups that are especially relevant in tough times like this.  Things like:

    I'd also add that finding the right industry vertical is important.  For example, while anything is possible, I'd argue as of today that a startup focusing on the retail industry is gambling in dangerous territory.  Launching a start-up in a more recession-resistant industry like healthcare or education (regardless of the economy, people will always need medical services and schools will always be open) may make more sense.  Something to keep in mind.

    From a Microsoft perspective, there's some exciting things that we provide to start-ups to help them build their dream solution.  The first is BizSpark.

    BizSpark is Microsoft's premier initiatives to help get start-ups off the ground.  The details about BizSpark can be found in this document, but in a nutshell, it provides Microsoft software to build the solution, gives start-ups access to partners and other global support resources and visibility on Microsoft sites like StartupZone and the BizSparkDB which potential customers can use to view solutions that might fit their needs (i.e.:  it will help you drum up customers).

    Another resource, one that is not strictly for start-ups is the Microsoft Partner Programme (MSPP).  The partner programme offers a great deal of support to companies building solutions on the Microsoft platform, including deeply discounted software in order to build your solution, free training only for partners, co-marketing opportunities and the ability to profile your solutions in the Partner Solution Profiler which customers can search to find solutions that fit their needs, among other things.

    -Paul

    Technorati Tags:  Recession, Recession and IT, Developer, Microsoft

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