Transcending the Traditional Web

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

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  • Transcending the Traditional Web

    Coffee and Code: A great idea and I’ll be there today!

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    My colleague Joey deVilla is brilliant.  He sets up the coolest events and really connects with the developer audience.  He’s now come up with an interesting concept called “Coffee and Code” where he picks a Toronto-based coffee house and spends the day there so developers can show up and chat with him.

    I wish I had thought of it myself, but since I didn’t I decided to join him at today’s Coffee & Code in Toronto.  From Joey’s Coffee and Code Blog:

    Yes, there’s going to be a Coffee and Code in Toronto this Friday, March 13th, and this time, it’s going to be midtown. I’ll be holding it at the Starbucks at Yonge at Davisville (1909 Yonge Street, right by Davisville subway station) from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m..

    Map picture

    This particular Starbucks branch is pretty big, with a large second floor. A number of local groups, such as the Toronto Spanish Group, the “Mompreneurs” and other business networking groups have used it as a meetup location. The WiFi isn’t free, but if you have a Starbucks card with at least a $5 balance, you get two hours’ worth of wifi access at any wifi-equipped Starbucks every day.

    I’m planning to show up for around 11AM and I’ll likely stay until around 3PM, so please drop by if you can and say hello!

     

  • Transcending the Traditional Web

    Join the Microsoft Partner Program, Get Expression Web

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    Microsoft Canada has a great offer for any Canadian web solution provider that isn’t already a Registered Microsoft Partner.

    For a limited time, we are offering a free copy of Expression Web 2, our premier web design tool for building compelling web sites.

    All you need to do is go to this site, register as Microsoft Partner on the site (which is completely free) and enter your Partner ID to get your free copy of Expression Web 2.

    There are many other benefits with this offer as well.  We are offering access to free training on Microsoft web platform technologies, great hosting offers and other benefits as well.

    In addition to all that, by registering as a Microsoft Partner, you get other offers for training, deeply discounted software to help you start your business as well as support from Microsoft to help you grow your business.

    If you haven’t registered as a Microsoft Partner yet, this may be a great time to do it!

    -Paul

     

  • Transcending the Traditional Web

    Understanding the Microsoft Web Platform

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    A common complaint that I hear from people who build web solutions is that when they try to start building web solutions on the Microsoft Platform, they hit a wall because of 2 things:

    1. There is so much information they don’t even know where to start.
    2. There is no consolidated set of resources that give them a launch pad for learning and using the Microsoft Web Platform.

    The fact of the matter is, the people I talk to are right!   We literally have gigabytes of very useful and relevant information for anyone that wants to build great web solutions with our tools and platform technologies but there are so many places where you need to go to get that information it becomes frustrating and turns people away.

    Well, we’ve heard these complaints and to help you get the resources you need, we have provided a Canadian-focused portal for building web solutions on the Microsoft platform.  This portal is intended to provide a launch pad for finding the information you need about our web platform.  This includes:

    • Information on the tools you need to build on our platform and where to get them
    • Learning facilities where you can get online training on our platform technologies – for free!
    • Information on how to join the Microsoft Partner Program and why registering for free can help you grow your business
    • Offers on software, 3rd party training and other benefits to help you get up to speed at a reduced cost
    • Whitepapers to help you understand some of our best practices for building Microsoft-based web solutions
    • Links to important blogs on our web platform
    • How to find a hosting partner for your solution on Windows
    • and much, much more

    If you are building web solutions on the Microsoft platform or if you are thinking about it, I strongly encourage you to visit the site.  If you have feedback on the site, please let me know by submitting a comment to this post!

    -Paul

    Technorati Tags: Web Development Resource

  • Transcending the Traditional Web

    Feel Energized? EnergizeIT is coming to a Canadian City Near you…

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    Every year, Microsoft Canada puts on an event called EnergizeIT.  In the past this event was a one-day event held in Toronto where we talked about the great new technologies that we are going to be releasing.  This year, we’re changing the format so that people across Canada can experience EnergizeIT!

    My colleague Damir Bersinic has created a blog post all about it – I encourage you to take a look at it!  If you want to hear about Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2, IE8, Hyper-V, Windows Azure and many other upcoming technologies from Microsoft, this is where you want to be!

    Technorati Tags: EnergizeIT

  • Transcending the Traditional Web

    Predictions for 2009

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    The community of Microsoft Regional Directors (individuals who are leaders in the Microsoft technology they specialize in and are considered among the top speakers on those technologies as well) have come up with their predictions on where Microsoft and IT in general will be going in 2009.

    I always like reading these predictions (just like I like to read preseason Superbowl predictions from NFL sports analysts) – some are always bang on and some not so much.

    The consolidated list is found on the global Regional Directors website.

    Some of our Canadian Regional Directors have created their predictions as well.  Some are great predictions and some are ones we’ll have to see if they turn out, but I’ve listed links to some of our Regional Directors’ blogs below for your enjoyment:

    I’m looking forward to seeing who is the most correct by year’s end!

    -Paul

  • Transcending the Traditional Web

    ASP.NET MVC Code Gallery Released

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    Joe Stagner, one of the people at Microsoft that I greatly admire wrote in his blog about this nice little gold nugget about the ASP.NET MVC Code Gallery being released.

    If you are a fan of the MVC pattern and you’re interested in using the ASP.NET MVC framework, this is a great place to start.  The code is contributed by the community and the licensing for it Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license so have a look and feel free to use it to learn and build MVC-based applications in ASP.NET!

    Technorati Tags:  MVC

  • Transcending the Traditional Web

    Out of Band Hotfix for Internet Explorer

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    By now many of you have heard about the out-of-band hotfix to fix the IE vulnerability that has has been in the news the past few days.

    My colleague Rodney Buike has made a post on the Canadian IT Pro blog describing the details.  I invite you to view the details from that post below:

    Typically hotfixes are released on the second Tuesday of each month as you are all well aware.  Occasionally, I can personally only remember four including this one and the one this past October, there are out of band hotfixes released.  While we don’t normally post hotfix release notifications considering this is an out of band release I wanted to let you all know about it. Please note the webcasts at the bottom in case you wish to hear more about the fix.

    Microsoft Security Bulletin MS08-078 – Critical

    Security Update for Internet Explorer (960714)

    http://www.microsoft.com/technet/security/bulletin/MS08-078.mspx

    Executive Summary


    This security update resolves a publicly disclosed vulnerability. The vulnerability could allow remote code execution if a user views a specially crafted Web page using Internet Explorer. Users whose accounts are configured to have fewer user rights on the system could be less impacted than users who operate with administrative user rights.

    This security update is rated Critical for Internet Explorer 5.01, Internet Explorer 6, Internet Explorer 6 Service Pack 1, and Internet Explorer 7. For information about Internet Explorer 8 Beta 2, please see the section, Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) Related to This Security Update. For more information, see the subsection, Affected and Non-Affected Software, in this section.

    The security update addresses the vulnerability by modifying the way Internet Explorer validates data binding parameters and handles the error resulting in the exploitable condition. For more information about the vulnerability, see the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) subsection under the next section, Vulnerability Information.

    This security update also addresses the vulnerability first described in Microsoft Security Advisory 961051.

    Recommendation:

    Microsoft recommends that customers apply the update immediately.

    Known Issues:

    None.  If you experience any issues please call 1-866-PCSAFETY.  There is no charge for this call.

    Update Availability

    The update has been pushed to all Windows Update servers and will appear on your WSUS server(s) as soon as you synchronize them.  You can also download the patch for your operating system at the link posted above.

    For more information please tune into the following webcast!

    Title: Information About Microsoft December Out-of-Band Security Bulletin
    Date: Wednesday, December 17, 2008 1:00 P.M. Pacific Time (U.S. & Canada)
    URL: http://msevents.microsoft.com/CUI/EventDetail.aspx?EventID=1032399448&Culture=en-US

    Title: Information About Microsoft December Out-of-Band Security Bulletin #2
    Date: Thursday, December 18, 2008 11:00 A.M. Pacific Time (U.S. & Canada)
    URL: http://msevents.microsoft.com/CUI/EventDetail.aspx?EventID=1032399449&Culture=en-US

  • Transcending the Traditional Web

    Finding Opportunities in a Recession Economy, PART 3

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    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

  • Transcending the Traditional Web

    Finding Opportunities in a Recession Economy, PART 2

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    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 1

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    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

    Silverlight 2 and Building Rich Web Applications Today

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    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

    Event Debrief: Developing Rich Interactive Applications

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    Over the past two weeks, I have been travelling with my colleague Jamie Wakeam across Canada conducting a half-day presentation on how to build Rich Internet Applications (RIAs) on the Microsoft platform.  I want to thank everyone who came to our briefings in Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto - the response to the event was overwhelming and we were very happy that it hit on the right topics for you as solution providers.

    The topics for this briefing were:

    • Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF)
    • ASP.NET 3.5 (specifically the AJAX and MVC components)
    • Silverlight 2
    • Internet Explorer 8

    For those of you who were unable to join us, not to worry!  There are a few tricks up our sleeve to make sure you can get the information as well.  Over the next little while, we will be recording screencasts of the content we presented so you can view the presentation online.  Stay tuned for a future blog post with the links to these presentations.  In addition to this, we will be conducting a webcast on the content we presented for the Internet Explorer 8 component of the talk on Thursday, October 23, 2008 at 2:00PM ET.  You can register for this webcast here.

    In addition to these resources that will be made available, you can also download the presentation and associated demo code we showed here.

    -Paul

    Technorati Tags:  Rich Internet Applications, Microsoft Platform, Silverlight, IE8, Internet Explorer 8, Windows Presentation Foundation, ASP.NET

  • Transcending the Traditional Web

    Silverlight 2 Release Candidate Now Available

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    Late last week, Scott Guthrie announced the availability of the Silverlight 2 Release Candidate.  This is pretty exciting news as it represents a significant milestone towards the go-live of Silverlight 2. 

    The RC release of Silverlight 2 represents a developer release with the intent of providing a glimpse of what the final Silverlight 2 product will look and behave like prior to its release.  The reason this is being done in this particular case is that so that Silverlight solutions built with the Beta code can be tested with bits that are considered very close to the go-live release to fix anything that will break with the new version.

    You can download the RC bits for Silverlight 2 here.

    For specific information on the breaking changes the RC bits introduce, you should check here and here.

    And before you ask when Silverlight 2 goes live, don’t ask me because I’m not allowed to tell anyone.  :)

    -Paul

  • Transcending the Traditional Web

    Picking the right platform to fit your solution

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     [Cross-posted from the Canadian Developer Blog, which I also contribute to]

    I love Football Sunday.  On a Sunday when I have nothing else more important to do there’s nothing more enjoyable to me than sitting down and watching a great game of football.  Some of you may be looking at this post already thinking I’m crazy; football is not exactly related to development and I’ve heard more than once from my friends that the sport is as slow as molasses and about as fun as watching paint dry.  Well, the thing that I really love about football is figuring out the strategies being employed by each team in the field.  Football is a game of strategy and it’s often the team with the best strategy executing well on that strategy that wins the game.

    It’s the topic of strategy that is linking football to the work you do as a developer or as a software solutions provider that is the importance of this post.  I’m sure most of you will agree that while your efforts in solving the business problem at hand is critical to the success of your software development project, if you pick the wrong technology platform to start off with, you have a tough hole to climb out of.

    The art of software development is a truly pragmatic one.  When you are faced with solving a business challenge with software, you need to be objective in choosing the technologies to implement your solution.  As the saying goes, “the right tool for the right job”.  It’s this precise moment in software delivery and development that I find the most interesting and when I talk to small business solution providers about their challenges, it’s these conversations that I find the most fun to talk about.

    Deciding on the right software development platform is never an easy one as every business challenge is different in either subtle or not-so-subtle ways.  That’s why I love to see the many success stories of solution providers picking the Microsoft platform to build their solutions and delivering a great software experience to their customer with our tools.  It’s rewarding to them and rewarding to me to see their success take flight.

    I’d like to share with you two short examples of solution providers picking our platform.  Both are different in their approach and goals, but both made a strategic choice to use Microsoft technologies to build their solutions are enjoying the success of their efforts as a result.

    The first is MBC, a solutions provider and hoster based in Richmond Hill, Ontario.  The were approached by Student Price Card, a business that offers discounts to a wide variety of stores and services for college and university students.  They were in need of a robust e-commerce site that included an online portal and email distribution system for their members.  MBC proposed a solution using ASP.NET 3.0, SQL Server 2005 and Exchange 2007, all built with Visual Studio 2008 and hosted on Windows Server 2008.  The resulting online portal is here.  The benefits the customer has derived from this has been dramatically increased uptime from the previous version of the portal, no IT staff to support it (as it is hosted), the ability to send over 1 million emails a month to their registered member list and a much better user experience for their users.

    The second story I’d like to share with you is from Pink and Yellow Media, a design agency based out of Vancouver.  This agency provides a number of design services for their customers, including the creation of dynamic e-commerce sites and skinning of blogs.  Morten Rand-Hendriksen, co-CEO of the company, was introduced to Microsoft’s Expression Web product at the launch of the first version and decided to give it a try.  The result was iZufall.com, a website for a customer that built the game called Zufall.  With the exception of the photographs used on the site (which he used Adobe Photoshop to edit), the entire site was built using Expression Web and Expression Design.  Morten has documented his entire journey on his blog (starting with the very first post!), including the good and the ugly with the first version of the tool.  Since then, he has used Expression Web and Expression Design to create a number of other sites for his customers, including Nature’s Carpet (after the Flash intro page), a web store for all-natural carpeting and flooring, and several custom designs for blogs (mainly using WordPress as the back end engine).  The truly interesting thing about this was Morten’s work in documenting his experience with the Expression tools online got him noticed by the Expression product team in Redmond who have asked him to write a book on Expression Web as a result.  The book, Teach Yourself Microsoft Expression Web 2 in 24 Hours, will be published soon.

    These are just two of the Canadian small business solution providers doing great things with our platform and tools.  There are many others out there that are making strategic choices to build on our platform as well and I find it so rewarding as a Microsoft Canada employee to see so many Canadian small businesses choosing our platform and reaping the rewards in doing so.

    As you can probably guess, we’re on the verge of adding some new and very important platform technologies to our product lines that will help you as a solution provider to build amazing solutions for your customers and business.  I can’t wait to see what new and innovative solutions you come up with!  If you feel like sharing your solution story with us, please let us know by emailing us or leaving a comment for this post!

    -Paul

    Technorati Tags:  Microsoft Platform

  • 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

    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

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

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    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

    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

     

    Technorati Tags:  , ,

  • 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

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