Archive for January, 2007

31
Jan
07

The power of WPF in the browser…

The launch of Vista is now allowing some of the great applications that have been worked on over the last few years to start to see the light of day.

The Bristish Library application simply could not be built in any other technology and delivered across the wire to a browser. Now the first thing to make clear is this is a FULL blown WPF application delivered to the browser (called a XBAP) so will work on Windows Vista (or XP SP 2 with the .Net 3 framework installed).

To deliver an amazing experience of interacting with their priceless collection of books the Bristish Library needed to harness all the power of the computer the application was running on – especially the video card – to gain access to it’s 3D power to be able to deliver simply the best in browser experience.

Tim Sneath has a great write up here:

http://blogs.msdn.com/tims/archive/2007/01/30/great-wpf-applications-1-british-library-turning-the-pages.aspx

But to wet your appetite here are a few screen shots:

I think this is an amazing application and one of the reasons I find the new technologies from Microsoft so exciting, a complete range of solutions to address the delivery of content and applications on the web.

Later on in the year we will be launching WPF/e which provides a subset of the capabilities of WPF to different browsers and platforms, Mac OSX, Safari, Firefox and Internet Explorer in it’s first release. At this point we’ll really start to see the flexibility of XAML, WPF and WPF/e 🙂 You can already download a preview of the technology from here: http://msdn2.microsoft.com/en-us/asp.net/bb187358.aspx

In some cases though, such as this one with the British Library, you are building something that is way beyond the capabilities of normal web technologies. What you’re building would normally be considered a desktop application with full 3D, dynamic lighting, high quality audio and whole series of other more desktop like features. By utilising WPF the British Library has been able to extend the reach of an application that in previous technologies would only have been accessible from their local network, and extended the reach of that applciation across the globe, allowing more people than ever to enjoy some of the amazing books they hold for the nation.

You can try the application right here: http://www.bl.uk

Amazing job! And well done to the guys in DPE Richard Godfrey and Geoff Hughes for steering the project to this stage 🙂

30
Jan
07

Expression: New Beta Versions

The title pretty much says it all but another milestone has been reached on the road to release… and you can now download Beta 1 of Expression Design from:

http://www.microsoft.com/products/expression/en/Expression-Design/default.mspx

And… Beta 2 of Expression Blend from:

http://www.microsoft.com/products/expression/en/Expression-Blend/default.mspx

Enjoy 🙂

22
Jan
07

Installing Bluetooth on a MacBook Pro running Windows Vista RTM

Well I thought it was about time I got myself Bluetooth’d up as I’m playing with, and therefore syncing 3 different devices and of course they all require different cables! So time for Bluetooth…

So I’m going to make just one assumption, that you’ve got the Drivers CD that Boot Camp creates (I normally keep the drivers on my C: drive), you’ll need these in a moment as we’ll be using the Apple Bluetooth drivers for this install.

The other claveat is that I’ve only tested this on a MacBook Pro as that’s the machine I use, it could be a slightly different process for a Mac Mini, or MacBook.

In my case Bluetooth was completely AWOL on my machine so the first thing to do is launch the ‘device manager’ in Vista and have a poke around.

Once you’ve done this choose ‘devices by connection’ from the view menu. This reorders and groups your devices into a much more manageable layout.

Click on the ‘+’ sign next to the ‘pci’ to drop down for the full list of connections:

Once you’ve expanded the ‘pci’ list you see a number of different ‘Intel 82801G/Intel 82801 GB’ options. The one we’re looking for has the letters – 27CB – after its name.

Expand this so you can view its connection tree:

Right click on the ‘USB Composite Device’ option and select ‘update driver software’ from the menu. A window opens and presents you with two options, choose ‘browse my computer for driver software’.

A second window opens, from these two options choose ‘let me pick from list of device drivers on my computer’.

This now opens the following window:

Select the ‘have disk’ option then navigate to the your Bootcamp Drivers folder. You need to choose the ‘BthKicker’ option which is in the ‘Macintosh Drivers for Windows XP’ folder. Click ok.

The following warning will open:

Click ‘install this driver software anyway’… and then wait for about 30 seconds or so while your Bluetooth software is configured. Once it’s finished you’ll get the following confirmation:

 

And now you’re good to go.

19
Jan
07

XAML – the future of the designer developer workflow

Since the day I got started playing with web technologies back in 96, (I was early but not there right at the start as I was still too busy doing print design) the same question has always been asked… but never satisfactorily answered.

How do designers and developers work together. 

This has never been resolved and today there is still a lot of friction between designers and developers. Why is this such a difficult problem to solve? Designers have great tools to build the graphics and interactions of the application (both desktop and web), developers have great tools to build the underlying architecture and business logic but gluing these things together has always been so difficult.

Maybe the issue is that simple, the term gluing. Designing and developing shouldn’t be glued together, they should be treated more like ingredients that get mixed together in the right quantity. Sometimes a little more design, sometimes a little less.

In the projects I’ve observed and worked on with designers and developers, they have generally worked as separate teams, not side by side, and I mean literally side by side in the same room. Over the course of a project no real understanding of each others art has been built up. And up to now it probably wouldn’t have made any difference anyway because the workflow would still have been broken.

Designers get frustrated when developers fail to understand the importance of why a button needs to be 3 pixels further to left, or why the shade of blue that looks the same but isn’t, really matters that much. Conversely the designer doesn’t understand that it might take a lot of effort on the developers part to actually recode the application to move that button 3 pixels to the left.

This is a difficult cycle to break because developers don’t speak JPG or GIF and designers don’t speak code (or at least they shouldn’t have to). So you are left literally gluing the different pieces together.

What XAML does is it allows us to break down the barriers in this designer developer workflow. It enables designers to use the same common language as developers and visa versa. This is a key change, and has probably been easier for Microsoft to address as we’re entering an established market (visual design) but without the baggage of multiple versions of previous products. This has allowed us to actually address and solve the real issues rather than just putting sticking plaster over them and hoping it all hangs together.

So what is XAML – a short definition from : http://www.xaml.net/

“XAML is a declarative XML-based language that defines objects and their properties in XML. XAML syntax focuses upon defining the UI (user interface) for the Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) and is therefore separate from the application code behind it.”

Great… but what does that really mean in terms of workflow?

What it actually means is designers and developers can now speak the same language, XAML, for both Windows desktop applications through WPF and the web through WPFe).

Expression Design enables designers to build the UI elements of their applications and export them as XAML.

Expression Blend allows you to take those graphics and add an interaction model and build out the presentation layer of the application. The native format of Expression Blend… is XAML.

If a developer is working in Visual Studio to build the underlying architecture of the application the language used to describe the presentation layer is XAML… designers and developers can for the first time work seamlessly together.

In fact Expression Blend and Visual Studio even share the same project files.

If a designer has been working on an application and the developer needs to do some additional work to the architecture this can be achieved without disturbing the presentation layer. And the reverse is true to, designers can work on the presentation layer without disturbing the underlying application architecture.

Separation, yet integration of presentation and logic. The holy grail… and it works.

Already XAML exporters have started to appear in early form for many different products, Illustrator (http://www.mikeswanson.com/XAMLExport/) and Fireworks (http://www.infragistics.com/design/#FireworkstoXAMLExporter), Maya (http://www.highend3d.com/maya/downloads/tools/3d_converters/3782.html) as well as complete applications such as XAM3D (http://www.erain.com/products/ZAM3D/DefaultPDC.asp).

XAML is a great step forward, but it’s only as good as the tools around it. Luckily for me tools like Expression Blend already go far beyond what any version 1 tool should be capable of. Seeing peoples eyes light up as you edit a button, or a data bound list box by simply right clicking and then visually editing the components template complete with live data… is just superb fun… excuse me sir would you mind picking your chin up off the floor… 🙂

I’ll talk/ramble more indepth about XAML. But for now… must dash… I’m off to the Vista launch geek dinner… and running late… eek… very late!!

16
Jan
07

What happened to Frontpage?

I attended the BETT education show last week in London. As usual it was a very busy and fun affair (although try telling that to my feet after working on the booth all day !).

One question that came up time and time again was what had happened to Frontpage.

Well Frontpage has been replaced. Yes, that’s right, Frontpage is gone, it has left the building and won’t be coming back.

But worry ye not…

…as in fact Frontpage has been replaced by two products. Personally I think this is a great move as the Frontpage 2003 release was really trying to address two completely different markets and this is something that always gets increasingly difficult to do.

The first market is the professional web design/pro-sumer market. People in this sector need a great visual design surface, tight code control and full standards support, and the product that supplies this in bucket loads is Expression Web.

The second market that is being targeted is the Sharepoint market, essentially people who want to redesign and customise Sharepoint sites, and for this market we have Office Sharepoint Designer 2007.

In the v1 releases of these products Sharepoint Designer is a superset of Expression Web with additional features that pointedly address the Sharepoint market. At first glance it might seem that Expression Web is the poor cousin of the family, however this is not the case. In the future features will be added to the products relvant for the markets they are targeting. Therefore Expression Web will build on it’s web standards and web technology support, while Sharepoint Designer will  focus more tightly on it’s integration into the design process for Sharepoint Server.

In fact for anyone wondering which version to purchase it is important to make the right choice because in future versions the products will move much further apart in terms of functionality and feature sets, they’re run by different product teams, with very different mindsets and have no crossgrade path from one to the other.

The easiest way to think of it is that if you are looking for a replacement for Frontpage and will be designing for Sharepoint, then Office Sharepoint Designer 2007 is the product for you.

Outside of that narrow remit Expression Web is the product you should be looking at.

Best of all… you can try Expression Web free for 60 days… http://www.microsoft.com/products/expression/en/expression-web/free-trial.mspx

11
Jan
07

They’ve gone and moved it…

If you’ve been using Expression Interactive Designer over the last 12 months and have recently upgraded to the Expression Blend Beta 1 you may be wondering where the work space zoom control has moved to.

If you’ve not seen this, it’s great 🙂 and the answer for anyone with a high DPI screen… Blend allows you to zoom the work space to make the panals and text perfect for any size or dpi of screen.

You can find the control here, under options:

Once you’ve chosen options you’ll be presented with the following window:

Workspace zoom allows you to alter the scale of the UI. This is fantastic and everytime I plug my machine into a 23in or larger monitor the speed that I can make the UI usable still makes me smile. No more squinting at tiny fonts!

Just in case you’re wondering the theme option allows you to change from the default dark UI, though why you’d ever want to? Using Blend again for the first time after Christmas just felt so right, it was like saying hello to an old friend. Hmm… ok… so maybe I’m sad…

11
Jan
07

Running Vista RTM on MacBook Pro

I’ve been running Vista RTM on my MacBook Pro for around six weeks or so and over the weekend decided to do a machine rebuild, both OSX and Vista… which prompted me to jot down a few thoughts.

I’ve now taken the OSX partition as small as it will go, I was tempted to blow away the partition completely to gain the drive space but have decided to leave it there for the moment so I can easily test WPFe on OSX.

It was interesting installing both OS systems one after another, OS X took around 90 minutes to install from scratch.

Boot Camp and Vista again played well, I literally installed Boot Camp (about 3 minutes), popped in the Vista DVD and 3 or maybe it was 4 reboots, and 35 minutes later had a Vista RTM MacBook Pro.

Other than the time difference both set ups were easy and smooth. 

Once Vista was installed I added ‘Input Remapper’ to gain the CTRL, ALT, DEL key combination, keyboard backlighting and auto screen dimming. This can be downloaded from here..

http://forum.insanelymac.com/index.php?showtopic=34515  (version 1.0.0.1)

Next up was a trip to ATI to download the Vista RTM Cataylst Drivers everything else was left as standard. (http://www.ati.com)

As ever the iSight drivers install (from the Apple XP driver disk) but the camera isn’t picked up by any of the video software so I’ll guess we need to wait for a driver update from Apple for that one… and for the second time I haven’t installed the Bluetooth drivers… I’ve always found Bluetooth to be one of the most over rated technologies and after many hours of battling with Bluetooth previously on both OSX and XP I have decided it’s just not worth the hassle. Life’s too short!

And that’s the story so far. No surprises and no hicups as the machine has run like clock work so far.

Vista Ratings are:

Processor: 4.8
Memory: 4.9
Graphics: 4.1
Gaming graphics: 4.5
Primary Disk: 4.9

Apple make a great Vista PC.