Posts Tagged ‘Microsoft’

aaand crash.

Monday, April 18th, 2011

MIX was exhausting, but a whole lot of fun.

The flight back was interesting because I was super-smart and booked a red-eye with two stopovers and about 7 hours of in-flight time. This meant staying up for nearly 30 consecutive hours and spending almost half that time in airports/on planes.

Yeah. Exhausting.

I met a lot of great people, and wrote some hopefully-useful posts for my workplace’s blog about what I learned. If you missed them, they can be found here.

I had a couple of other thoughts that didn’t quite make it into any posts, so in no particular order, here are my many meandering musings re: MIX 2011.

Microsoft Really Cares about Windows Phone 7

The amount of excitement and volume behind WP7 and the new Mango update was almost overwhelming.

Windows Phone 7 was the main focus of the day-two keynote, which was the main event for the entire show. Joe Belfiore spent a solid twenty minutes apologizing for the hassles from the recent update before diving into the new stuff. I could really see some passion here; he clearly wanted to fix the process and see the platform succeed.

Azure is Probably Doing Pretty Well

There wasn’t much talk about Azure. A couple of panels, but very little else. My sneaking suspicion is that this means Azure is hitting its targets and Microsoft is happy with how it’s going.

My boss, Mr. Tony Hooper, was kind enough to point out to me that the crowd at MIX isn’t really the target market for Azure, and that we would probably hear a lot more about it at TechEd.

He’s probably right.

But that doesn’t mean I’m wrong :)

Silverlight 5 is All About Developers

Somewhere in the past 5 years or so, the world went from “Microsoft thinking they had the best dev tools around” to “Microsoft actually having some really sweet kit for building web experiences.”

Silverlight 5 is pushing this advantage. The new features available in the upcoming release are nice, but the improvements to their dev tools are even better. There were sessions focused on boosting performance and how to use the new features, and everyone was talking about how much they crave debugging for bindings.

There was a lot of positive energy around the tools and those using them. As a developer, this was nice to see.

IE10 was Launched!

Ok, so it’s just the platform preview for now, but that’s still something. IE9 only went official a month ago, so it’s great-great-great to see Microsoft finally putting a serious push behind the Internet Explorer team.

Yes, I realize most people probably aren’t as excited about this as I am. That’s just me, I’m a self-confessed browser geek. Still, I really felt special being at a keynote where a new version of a major browser was announced; I don’t think we’ll see many more browser updates unveiled with such gusto.

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MIX was a really fun experience. It was my first major conference, and I’m glad I was able to attend. Here’s to hoping there are many more exciting events in my future!

Find me at MIX 2011!

Monday, April 11th, 2011

By the time this post goes live, I’ll be in Las Vegas for MIX 2011.

Follow along!

As I’m there on behalf of my workplace, I’ll be blogging up a storm on the Macadamian blog. I’ll also be tweeting primarily under the company moniker, @macadamianlabs.

It’s going to be awesome!

I’ll be demonstrating the famous Windows Phone 7 Isolated Storage Explorer (made by Romeo Dumitrescu, one of Macadamian Romania’s newest tech leads) at Open Source Fest on Monday.

I’ll also be attending boot camps, speaking sessions (both big and small), and various attendee and Microsoft-sponsored parties, all of which I’m very excited for.

If you’re at MIX, please say hi!

Tweet me at my personal account (@dan_menard) or Macadamian’s official account (@macadamianlabs), or send me an email. I’d be happy to meet up with you to chat, catch a session, or grab a drink.

Finally, any advice for a first-time MIX attendee? Thankfully it’s not my first time in Vegas, we all know how that ended up.

Windows Phone 7

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

The other day my boss walked up to my desk and asked me to choose a number between one and ten. I said four. He handed me an HTC Surround, a new handset running Windows Phone 7, and told me to try it out for the day.

It was awesome.

This is the first serious iPhone-competitor I’ve seen so far. Sure, it doesn’t have Android’s openness or Palm’s lovable WebOS, but it has it’s own user experience that isn’t just a knockoff of what Apple came up with almost four years ago. Here are some thoughts from my day of usage:

I’m in love with the interface.

The new hub-scrolling paradigm is a fresh and welcome change to how content is organized on a small screen. Instead of always breaking different information into distinct views, like you would see on an iPhone or Android phone, applications for WP7 are organized as one giant view that you sort of scroll around on. It’s a bit tricky to visualize, but once you’ve used it, you get it. It’s that simple.

And then there’s the transitions! They’re incredible. Anytime you do anything on the phone, it’s accompanied by a fancy-but-not-quite-distracting animation. The way one view flips to another is gorgeous. The loading screen is clean and fun to watch. The whole thing is like one giant production, and it’s really well done.

Lastly, many of the applications I downloaded already use these new UI elements very well. The Facebook app (which admittedly was made by MS) is easy to use and well-organized. Though it’s completely different from the iPhone Facebook app, which I’m a huge fan of, it’s just as good. I was blown away. Twitter was another great example, and this was actually made by the guys at Twitter. They grasped how to use the new graphical features and made an absolutely stellar app out of it — again, totally on par with Twitter’s official iPhone app.

The hardware is good, but not great.

The Surround in particular had a slide-out speaker, and a built-in stand. While this is probably standard fare for Android users, as an iPhone-enthusiast I’m not used to my phone having weird hardware. I probably wouldn’t use the speaker/stand much, but it might be interesting to see what other kinds of hardware are added in future third-party devices.

Of course, the standard components were done pretty well. The camera quality (5 MX stills, 720p video) is the same as that of the iPhone 4 (and puts my 3G to shame), though there’s no flash and no front-facing camera on this particular handset. The screen quality was very crisp, though I didn’t have an iPhone 4 on hand to compare it to.

It could be interesting to see how the hardware powering future WP7 devices will stack up to the iPhone 4 and whatever new iteration of the iPhone that Apple releases in 2011. For now, the iPhone still comes out on top, at least from the stock of WP7 devices available in Canada.

Some other misc things I liked:

The soft-keyboard is pretty awesome. The shape of the keys are different from the iPhone, and I found I was making less mistakes while typing. That said, the auto-complete may be a step down. Instead of filling in new words by default, like the iPhone, WP7 tries to guess what you’re typing as you go, and you have to manually select it when it shows up at the bottom of the screen. This is decidedly more work on my part; not only do I need an extra tap to auto-complete, I also have to constantly peek down at the bottom of the screen to find it.

Finally, I need to mention the home screen. I like it. Having applications update their icons automatically with new information is very useful, and grouping content by subject rather than by application has a lot of potential. The People tab, for example, lists all of your contacts, and integrates Twitter/Facebook information if applicable. I didn’t really have enough time to get a good feel for how useful this really is, but it’s an innovative concept nonetheless, and I’m anxious to see what third-party developers will do with it.

I kind of want one of these phones!

The overall impression I got from the Surround was quite positive. My current carrier-contract expires in July 2011, which should be right after Apple’s next iPhone iteration. I’m excited to see how WP7 stacks up at that point, because it looks like I might have a difficult decision on my hands — and that’s a good problem to have.

Internet Explorer 9

Monday, April 12th, 2010

I’m a little late to the party on this one, but I have a few of thoughts I’ve been meaning to jot down since watching Microsoft’s MIX presentation about Internet Explorer 9. It’s a pretty in-depth video, and a touch long (~1 hour), but if you’re at all interested in browser technology it’s absolutely a must-watch.

Internet Explorer is no long playing catch up.

The resounding vibe I get from the video is that the Internet Explorer team is finally starting to get really serious about modern browser technologies. I’ve made my position on IE8 clear in the past — namely that it nailed CSS 2.1 but still wasn’t a competitive browser overall — and IE9 looks to be where that second clause will change. For the first time in about 10 years, Internet Explorer is innovating. For the skeptics out there, here’s a list of the features promised in IE9 that I’m excited about:

  • Proper JS/DOM programmability.
  • Standards-compliant HTML5 and CSS3 support.
  • GPU usage for more complicated UI effects.
  • Inline SVG support.

Now those first two aren’t exactly revolutionary, but it’s clear after the CSS 2.1 push in IE8 that the Internet Explorer team isn’t ignoring the standards anymore; they’re dedicated to promoting cross-browser mark-up, and they have the technical capacity to make it happen. This is great news for users and especially great news for developers, and hopefully it will push other browser-makers to fulfill their obligations to HTML5 and CSS3 as well.

What is new are those last two points. Using the GPU for rendering complicated UI effects such as the <video> tag is a welcome innovation to balance increasingly client-heavy rich internet applications. I can see this being a major reason for users to stick with IE9 (the first one in a while, in fact). And what is there to say about inline SVG other than finally? As long as the implementation isn’t falling apart at the seams I can see developers jumping all over this; I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Firefox et al follow suit with similar support in the near future.

This is going to be huge.

IE9 is going to be the best version of Internet Explorer since IE4. It’s not going to be a standards-scoffing, security-lacking, feature-stealing deviant like its distant predecessors, and it’s not going to be that browser that we all hate rewriting our mark-up for. As a web developer who has lamented the existence of Internet Explorer for the majority of my career, I’m as surprised as I am pleased to say that for the first time in my life I’m looking forward to the next version of Internet Explorer.

The Present and Future of Flash

Monday, February 8th, 2010

Adobe Flash is at an interesting point in its existence. For about a decade, it was the only way to get rich, dynamic content onto the web. If it was the year 2001 and you wanted a really sleek UI, or video, or any kind of animation, Flash was your best bet — it was pretty much a monopoly. Then things started to change:

  • DHTML started to take over some of the really basic use-cases for dynamic events like rollovers and showing/hiding content.
  • AJAX made truly dynamic content easier for the non-flash world.
  • The mobile web started to take off, with most devices not capable of supporting Flash.
  • Microsoft released Silverlight, a competitor to Flash in the rich interface space.
  • Apple started releasing wildly popular devices that intentionally avoided supporting Flash.
  • Browsers started implementing support for HTML5 and CSS3, which are slowly being adopted by designs that would historically require Flash.

Slowly but surely, alternatives to Flash have been picking up speed, and things beyond Adobe’s control have prevented Flash from penetrating certain markets (mobile in particular). What does this mean for Flash as a technology?

Flash isn’t going away anytime soon…

This isn’t one of those posts about how HTML5 or the iPad or global warming is going to spell the end of Flash. Flash is a major player in many areas of the web, most of which won’t change anytime soon. In particular:

Games — There are tons of online Flash games. This is a huge market that Flash has absolutely dominated since day one, and none of the technologies mentioned above can compete with Flash on this level of interactivity.

Video — Like it or not, HTML5 is not yet strong enough to handle cross-browser, web-based video. Even when it is (and it will be sooner than you think) Flash will still be used well into the future because it’s the only solution for legacy browsers, and the vast majority of users don’t update their browsers as often as they should.

On top of that, Adobe has created an entire ecosystem of software and a vibrant community for designing, building, and publishing Flash-based applications. Plenty of people are heavily invested in these tools, and no amount of evangalism is going to convince them that their problems could be better solved by today’s Flash-alternative du jour.

…but Flash will start having a reduced role on the web in general.

It would be unrealistic to pretend that these new technologies aren’t eating into Flash’s market share. For one, even in the most complex cases, some projects are choosing Silverlight over Flash. Not the majority (not even close) but more than none, and Microsoft is a powerful competitor that can compete with Adobe on the development tools and community levels.

Secondly, HTML5 and CSS3 can do some pretty neat things. For cases such as modern, dynamic navigation and simple logo animation, it will soon make much more sense to use features supported by the browser than a heavyweight proprietary plug-in; especially if all you need is a quick piece of eye candy.

Finally, there are the problems caused by Apple. I can think of three:

No iPad/iPhone Support — The longer this keeps up (and I don’t see it changing anytime soon), the more likely it is that someone will create a cool, interesting way to do fancy, Flash-like things in an iFriendly format. And then a general-mobile format. And then a web format. The last thing Flash needs right now is for some brilliant start-up to shake things up even further.

Macbooks are getting popular — Adobe claims that Flash runs on every platform ever, but as Chris Rawson astutely points out in this excellent article, that’s been easy to say while most of the world has been running Windows. With Apple’s laptops gaining popularity, people are starting to realize that Flash doesn’t run as well in OSX. The more Macbooks Apple sells, the more Adobe’s claims of market domination will start to dissolve.

No iPad/iPhone Support: take two — I want this website to be viewable on the iPhone, the iPad, and whatever whimsical hardware Apple comes up with next. That alone means I’m not going to use Flash in my blog’s design, ever. I’m admittedly in a minority here, but I wouldn’t be surprised if today’s kids getting into web design are also going to want to show off their cool, new, standards-compliant sites on their cool, new, iApproved devices. This sort of trend will slowly but surely push Flash out of the cool-new-site space.

Getting along with OSX is something that Adobe is going to have to work towards to keep Flash competitive, especially as new markets evolve out Apple’s hardware.

I’m not anti-Flash.

I’ve been using Flex Builder to build cutting-edge Flash applications for years, and I still believe there are many cases where Flash is a legitimate choice for creating a rich internet experience; there just aren’t as many as there used to be, and this combination of new, exciting technologies and pressure from Apple are making for some exciting times in the world of web design.

2010 is shaping up to be a wild ride for Flash and its competitors, and I can’t wait to see where it takes us. What are your predictions?

Why I don’t hate Internet Explorer 8 (not that I’d ever use it)

Monday, January 18th, 2010

This week’s entry is a double feature about Internet Explorer. Part 1 examined why IE4 was awesome. Read on for part 2, where I’ll admit that I’m grateful for IE8.

Let me start by saying that in general, I find Internet Explorer appalling. The fact that so many people have been supporting an insecure, slow, feature-weak, standards-deviant browser with serious rendering problems and an awful user interface for so many years afflicts my soul with such utter disdain for Microsoft’s line of browsers that I automatically regard every new incantation thereof as an affront to both the web and mankind as a species.

Now that that’s out of my system, I don’t entirely hate Internet Explorer 8. I wouldn’t use it, not with so many better alternatives just waiting to be explored*, but it does offer one massive improvement over its predecessors that I’m very pleased with: IE8 has fantastic CSS 2.1 support.

I’m not making this up.

Check out the standards support table on this page, specifically the secion about CSS 2.1. Look at the massive difference between IE6/IE7 and IE8. Even Firefox 3 and Opera 10 can’t claim the same level of compliance. IE8 isn’t just a competitor when it comes to supporting CSS 2.1, it’s a role model.

This is a big deal.

For the first time ever, web developers can finally count on using standardized CSS to create a modern web experience without having to worry about “how to handle Internet Explorer”. Granted there is still the matter of older versions of IE, but with Windows 7 repairing a lot of the damage done by Vista, more and more users are upgrading to a new OS, and with that, a new browser. Writing cross-browser CSS is becoming easier than ever before.

Of course, many people will argue that simply supporting CSS 2.1 isn’t good enough (and they’re right). Internet Explorer is still way behind its competitors when it comes to newer standards such as HTML 5 and CSS 3. But what if this is just the beginning? Internet Explorer 9 is already well into development, and if Microsoft can turn the hobbled CSS implementations found in IE6 and IE7 into what is now in IE8, who’s to say they won’t be able to step up support for CSS 3 and/or HTML 5 in IE9? In as little as a year or two from now, Internet Explorer may be a legitimate browser for cutting-edge web experiences.

Share some thoughts!

What do you think of IE8? What about Internet Explorer in general?


* For the curious, the browsers linked in that phrase are the ones that were selected to show up in Windows 7′s “browser ballot” in Europe due to antitrust charges brought by the EU against Microsoft’s bundling of Internet Explorer with Windows. Computer World offers a great summary and FAQ on the matter.

IE4 was the Best Version of Internet Explorer Ever

Monday, January 18th, 2010

This week’s entry is a double feature about Internet Explorer. Read on for part 1, which examines why IE4 was awesome, then check out part 2, where I’ll admit that I’m grateful for IE8.

I found an old CD at work the other day; it was an install disk for Internet Explorer 4 SP1 for Windows NT and 95, still in its original packaging. I was quick to grab it, thinking about how great it will be to make fun of what an awful browser it must’ve been (I actually never used Windows NT or 95 or even 98.. I was raised Apple until 2000). So I pulled up Wikipedia and started reading, expecting to find plenty of things to laugh at, only to realize that what I was holding in my hand was actually a remarkable software artifact. IE4 wasn’t just great, it was legendary.

IE4 was the first wildly successful version of Internet Explorer. When it was released in fall of 1997, Netscape Navigator was the default “everyone uses it” browser. Internet Explorer, as a franchise, was the underdog. In merely a year and a half, IE4 had attained over 60% market share — it was the first version of IE to capture the majority of browser users, starting the first-ever browser war and a dynasty of sheer dominance for the Internet Explorer brand that peaked at just over 95% market share and is still running today, 11 years later.

IE4 pioneered the Trident rendering engine, which has been used in every version of IE since (and a few other places). It was bundled with the first official version of Outlook Express, and also included a chat client, a VoIP client (which supported video chat), a stripped-down web development platform, and RealPlayer (which was actually popular back then). There was even an optional download package that added an Active Desktop feature, which was essentially a precursor to the widgets found in Windows Vista/7.

IE4 also made significant UI improvements to the Internet Explorer line, moving from the bevelled-button motif that was popular at the time to the toolbar we still see in browsers today (see this pre-IE4 screenshot, then this one of IE4 — both courtesy of this wonderful IE archive site — and note the difference in the toolbar).

In short, this was one kick-ass cut of software. Can you imagine what it would be like if all of Microsoft’s output was this revolutionary? Where would browsing be today if every version of IE raised the bar this high?