Category Archives: web authoring

Infragistics building cross-platform development strategy on XAML says CEO

I spoke to Dean Guida, CEO at Infragistics, maker of components for Windows, web and mobile development platforms. Windows developers with long memories will remember Sheridan software, who created products including Data Widgets and VBAssist. Infragistics was formed in 2000 when Sheridan merged with another company, ProtoView.

In other words, this is a company with roots in the Microsoft developer platform, though for a few years now it has been madly diversifying in order to survive in the new world of mobile. Guida particularly wanted to talk about IgniteUI, a set of JQuery controls which developers use either for web applications or for mobile web applications wrapped as native with PhoneGap/Cordova.

“The majority of the market is looking at doing hybrid apps because it is so expensive to do native,” Guida told me.

Infragistics has also moved into the business iOS market, with SharePlus for SharePoint access on an iPad, and ReportPlus for reporting from SQL Server or SharePoint to iPad clients. Infragistics is building on what appears to be a growing trend: businesses which run Microsoft on the server, but are buying in iPads as mobile clients.

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Other products include Nuclios, a set of native iOS components for developers, and IguanaUI for Android.

I asked Guida how the new mobile markets compared to the traditional Windows platform, for Infragistics as a component vendor.

“The whole market’s in transition,” he says. “People are looking at mobility strategy and how to support BYOD [Bring Your Own Device], all these different platforms, and a lot of our conversations are around IgniteUI. We need to reach the iPad, and more than the iPad as well.”

“There’s still a huge market doing ASP.NET, Windows Forms, WPF. It’s still a bigger market, but the next phase is around mobility.”

What about Windows 8, does he think Microsoft has got it right? Guida’s first reaction to my question is to state that the traditional Windows platform is by no means dead. “[Microsoft] may have shifted the focus away from Silverlight and WPF, but the enterprise hasn’t, in terms of WPF. The enterprise has not shifted aware from WPF. We’ve brought some of our enterprise customers to Microsoft to show them that, some of the largest banks in the world, the insurance industry, the retail industry. These companies are making a multi-year investment decision on WPF, where the life of the application if 5 years plus.

“Silverlight, nobody was really happy about that, but Microsoft made that decision. We’re going to continue to support Silverlight, because it makes sense for us. We have a codebase of XAML that covers both WPF and Silverlight.”

Guida adds that Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 are “great innovation”, mentioning features like Live Tiles and people hub social media aggregation, which has application in business as well. “They’re against a lot of headwind of momentum and popularity, but because Microsoft is such an enterprise company, they are going to be successful.”

How well does the XAML in Infragistics components, built for WPF and Silverlight, translate to XAML on the Windows Runtime, for Windows 8 store apps?

“It translates well now, it did not translate well in the beginning,” Guida says, referring to the early previews. “We’re moving hundreds of our HTML and XAML components to WinJS and WinRT XAML. We’re able to reuse our code. We have to do more work with touch, and we want to maintain performance. We’re in beta now with a handful of components, but we’ll get up to 100s of components available.”

It turns out that XAML is critical to the Infragistics development strategy for iOS as well as Windows. “We wrote a translator that translates XAML code to iOS and XAML code to HTML and JavaScript. We can code in XAML, add new features, fix bugs, and then it moves over to these other platforms. It’s helped us move as quickly as we’ve moved.”

What about Windows on ARM, as in Surface RT? “We fully support it,” says Guida, though “with a straight port, you lose performance. That’s what we’re working on.”

Twilio adds support for WebRTC: real time communications in JavaScript

Cloud telephony company Twilio has announced beta support for WebRTC at its conference in San Francisco.

WebRTC is a project supported by Google, Mozilla and Opera and lets you do real time communications, including access to camera and microphone, using a JavaScript API without a plug-in. There is also a W3C Working Group.

WebRTC support will be a feature of the Twilio client:

When Twilio Client apps are used with a WebRTC compatible browser, such as future versions of Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox, Twilio Client will automatically take advantage of the improved audio performance of the WebRTC technology. If the browser doesn’t support it, Twilio Client will still work and fall back to existing browser technologies.

says Twilio.

Other new APIs announced at the conference include Test Credentials, which lets developers test code against the Twilio API without actually placing calls; Usage for retrieving Twilio usage logs and Usage Triggers which you can use to implement usage caps in order to limit cost.

Visual Studio 2012 hits and misses

A few quick reflections after writing a rather large review of Visual Studio 2012, Microsoft’s development tool for everything Windows.

Several things impressed me. The Graphics Diagnostics Tools for Direct3D, for example, is amazing; you can capture a frame, select a pixel, and drill down into why it is the colour it is. See Amit Mohindra’s blog post here. Though admittedly I got “Unable to start the experiment session” on my first go with this; make sure the Debugger Type is set to Native Only.

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Graphics is not really my area; but web development is more like it, and I continue to be impressed by what Microsoft has done with Windows Azure. You can go from hitting New Project in Visual Studio to an ASP.NET MVC 4.0 web site up and running on Windows Azure in moments. Even if you add an Azure SQL database into the mix it is not much harder. The experience is slightly spoiled by the fact that the new Azure portal for web sites etc is still in preview and seems to be a bit unreliable; I sometimes get an error when logging in and have to refresh before it works. That is a minor detail though; the actual deployed web sites and applications seem to work fine.

That said, it was also apparent to me that Microsoft’s Azure story has become a little confusing. Want an ASP.NET web app on Azure? Choose between a Web Role, a stateful VM, or a web site. Both web roles and web sites can be scaled quite effectively, thanks to the built in load balancer for web sites. Still, choice is good, as long as the differences are understood. It appears that Microsoft is still backing the web role approach as the most architecturally sound; but web sites are so easy to use and understand that it would not surprise me if they are more successful.

Another hit with me is the SQL Server Data Tools (SSDT), once I understood the difference between DACPACs and BACPACs – a DACPAC encapsulates the schema and logins etc for a database in a single file that you can import elsewhere, whereas a BACPAC also stores the data. The approach in SSDT is that a database schema is just a bunch of SQL scripts, and that if you manage it that way it makes a lot of sense in terms of version control, schema comparisons, deployment and maintenance.

On the ALM side I am impressed with Team Foundation Server Express, which is genuinely easy to install and lights up most of the key features of Microsoft’s ALM platform, though it does not handle the full SharePoint team portal or all the reporting features. Cloud hosting is also an option for TFS and that also worked OK for me, though with occasional delays as my code crossed the internet.

I hesitate slightly with TFS though. It feels like a heavyweight solution, whereas most developers like lightweight solutions. I know that open source tools like git and subversion only do a fraction of what you can do with TFS; but they also never keep me waiting.

I also wonder whether TFS simply creates too many artefacts. Work items seem to multiply rapidly as you use the system, which is good for traceability but could also become a bit of a bureaucratic nightmare if you have team members who make every action into a thing that needs comments and deadlines and links to source code and so on.

I guess it is like any other tool; it will work well for a team that already works well, but will not solve problems for a team that is already a bit dysfunctional.

I had not looked at Microsoft’s modelling featurs for a while; I was interested to discover new code generation features in the UML diagramming tools.

I am slowly beginning to understand what Microsoft is doing with apps for SharePoint. Get this: Microsoft is moving SharePoint 2013 towards being more of a service than a platform; you do not build apps on SharePoint; you build apps that use SharePoint services. This means you can at last develop SharePoint apps without having SharePoint installed on the same box as Visual Studio (thank goodness). And you can build SharePoint apps with PHP or Java as well as ASP.NET, because they are calling SharePoint, not running on it. Makes sense.

So what is not to like? There are a few puzzles, like the way Visual C++ has fallen behind in standards compliance despite the presence of Herb Sutter at Microsoft.

I also still find the whole XAML/Visual Studio/Blend thing a bit of a struggle. One day I will open up Blend, Microsoft’s XAML designer, and it will all fall into place as a natural and quick way to build a user interface, but it has not happened yet. I have also heard that developers should find the designer in Visual Studio enough; but at best it is rather slow and a little unpredictable.

Otherwise the tools for Windows Store apps seem decent to me, though I have heard that advanced developers are finding some issues; not surprising considering how new a platform it is. It is a distinctive platform, and my sense it that while there is a lot to like, developers need time to get the best from it, and there is also scope for Microsoft to improve it, maybe a few refinements in Windows 8 SP1?

Considering its scope, Visual Studio was relatively stable in my tests, though I did once get it into a state where it froze every time I tried to debug an application; fixed by a reboot (sigh).

I do not mind the monochrome user interface; I do not like it especially but it is something you get used to and do not notice after a short time.

Overall? Few people will use everything that is in Visual Studio and of course I have missed out most of it in the above, but it is a mighty achievement and still an asset to Microsoft’s platform.

How Adobe turned on a pin to embrace the web (and Google)

Adobe’s Create the Web world tour – which came to London yesterday – is in the public unveiling of of Adobe’s new wave of tools, the first since it turned away from Flash and towards open web standard, hardly a year ago.

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Michael Chaize is a developer evangelist at Adobe. I asked him when it became clear to him personally that Adobe was no longer a Flash platform company.

“The main shift happened November last year [2011]” he told me. “It happened when we, for the Flash part, decided to just focus on video games and premium video, and invest in HTML tooling and specifications with a team of engineers. It was synced with the decision to stop developing Flash in mobile just to focus on apps with Adobe AIR.

“Now we are almost a year later, and Create the Web is an opportunity to showcase the work that has been done. All the product that have been launched, the Edge tools and service, just started in November of last year.”

The timing was confirmed by Adam Lehman, product manager for Edge Code, a tool built on Bracket, which is an open source project created by Adobe to provide a lightweight, code-centric editor for HTML 5 technologies. I asked him when work on Brackets started. Research started in mid-2011, he said, but “we got the team together in December 2011 and started coding.”

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Adam Lehman

The Edge tools are intended as focused, lightweight product each targeting a specific small part of web design, in contrast to typical Creative Suite products such as Dreamweaver which encompass a large area of functionality; a valid approach but one which inevitably leads to huge tools that take an age to load and a lifetime to learn. Edge is also being used as a not-to-subtle way to promote Adobe’s subscription-based Creative Cloud, since the tools are only available by that route. As a further sweetener, you can get some of the tools as part of the free subscription tier.

It is remarkable that Adobe has navigated the difficult transition from Flash to HTML, and the difficult transition from shrink-wrap to subscription, with so little pain.

That said, perhaps the transition from Flash to HTML is not as profound as it first appears. The Flash runtime was always free, while Adobe made its money from design tools, and as the web become more capable, designing for the Web looks increasingly similar to designing for Flash.

Even the community is the same. “When it deals with expressive web, motion design, we feel that the Flash community can reuse their skills,” said Chaize.  “Being a Flash developer is not just about the language, it’s a knowledge, it’s a culture. Agencies tell me, ‘When I need to hire a motion designer for HTML, I hire a Flash guy.’

That said, HTML 5 is still inferior to Flash in some respects. I watched a slightly jerky animation showing off HTML 5 capabilities and could not help thinking that it would run more smoothly in Flash (of course it was all preview software). It will get there though. This is why Adobe is working to bring specifications like CSS shaders and CSS regions to the official standards.

There is another thing I noticed at Create the Web, which is the extent to which Adobe’s new tools are built on Google’s platform. Many of the Edge tools are made with the Chrome Embedded Framework; the browser used for demonstrations is Chrome Canary, a preview build implementing the newest standards, and if you look at the code you see abundant use of the WebKit prefix which designates features currently specific to the WebKit browser engine used by Apple, Google and others. There is also extensive use of WebGL, popular with designer but contentious because some browser vendors consider it a security risk and it is not an official web standard.

Lehman insists that there is no intention to go down a Google-specific route. “It was more of a technology stack we went with,” he says, explaining that the intent for Brackets is that it will one day run in the browser, in which case it will have to support Mozilla, Opera and Microsoft browsers as well.

The reason for adopting so much Google stuff is partly the excellent fit with what Adobe needed, and partly the low friction. “We didn’t have to go to a meeting, it was just published” said Lehman, referring to the Chromium Embedded Framework which let you run HTML5 applications on the desktop.

Brackets looks great, has real community adoption already, and Adobe has interesting plan for its future. Along with browser hosting, Lehman talks about proper debugging support with breakpoint, JavaScript macros, an embedded node.js engine, and more.

When Apple rejected Flash in iOS it put Adobe in a difficult spot – another reason for the company’s warmth towards Google and Android – but since then the transition has been remarkable.

Adobe results: 200,000 Creative Cloud subscribers and an impressive transition

Adobe has released its quarterly figures for its third financial quarter 2012. The figures show the success of Creative Cloud, Adobe’s subscription-based model for purchasing the Creative Suite applications, including Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Acrobat and Flash. Total revenue is fractionally up on the same period in 2011, from $1013.2M to $1080.6M.

Adobe reports over 200,000 paid subscribers and 8,000 new subscriptions per week, compared to its projections of only 5,000 per week.

The Creative Cloud model has several advantages for Adobe. First, it gives assurance of a steady continuing income rather than the pain of driving a 2 year upgrade cycle. Second, it forms a platform from which to sell other products and services.

Adobe also says that its publishing platform, the Digital Publishing Suite, now has 1,100 customers distributing on average 125,000 publications daily, mainly to the iPad, with over 40 million delivered to date. This is good business for Adobe since it generally charges a fee per download.

The slight downside for Adobe is that the launch of Creative Suite 6 delivered lower initial revenue than is usual for a new launch, because customers are transitioning to the subscription model. That is not really a downside, but rather a sign that the strategy is working.

What impresses me about Adobe is how well the company has survived the decline of Flash and the relative failure of its efforts in enterprise applications (the digital enterprise segment is now subsumed in the figures into “Digital Marketing”). The segment breakdown for the third quarter looks like this:

$millions

  • Digital Media (Creative Cloud) 769.1 (71%)
  • Digital Marketing (analytics etc) 257.1 (24%)
  • Print and Publishing 54.4 (5%)

Think back a couple of years. Adobe was dependent on sales of shrink-wrap software and had a range of products which pivoted around Flash as the universal runtime and rendering engine. Now it has some claim to being a cloud company – though of course the primary benefit of Creative Cloud is in desktop software applications that you download – and in place of Flash it it betting on HTML5, together with its ability to compile Flash-based content into native applications.

The transition is not so easy for developers who invested in the Flash platform, coding applications in Flex and ActionScript. Adobe has stopped developing Flash for mobile, even on Android and other mobile platforms where it is not blocked. Still, if that has pushed developers into targeting HTML5 earlier than they would otherwise have considered, it may not be a bad thing.

Dropbox turns to CoffeeScript to beat JavaScript syntactic noise

Dropbox is a high-profile convert to CoffeeScript, a language that has the elegance of Ruby or Python but compiles into clean JavaScript in order to run in the browser. The Dropbox team says that CoffeeScript fixes many of JavaScript’s “syntactic problems.” In addition, a porting exercise reduced 23,437 lines of JavaScript to 18,417 lines of CoffeeScript, code, and this brevity was considered the “strongest argument” in favour – even though many of those eliminated lines were just curly braces and parentheses.

In order to port the code, the team used the Js2coffee tool; a bit of a brain-twist, a tool to convert JavaScript to a language that later compiles back to JavaScript.

The whole post is worth a read, and gives before and after examples.

Consider also the following:

Google’s Dart is an alternative web language that compiles to JavaScript, as is Google Web Toolkit

Microsoft’s Office Web Apps are written in C# compiled to JavaScript with a version of Script#. Microsoft’s Roslyn compiler as a service project lets you copy and paste VB code as C# and vice versa, and is already also being used to compile C# as JavaScript. Microsoft’s Anders Hejlsberg is rumoured to be working on a JavaScript project.

JavaScript seems to be becoming the new Common Language Runtime, not that Microsoft’s .NET CLR is going away, but rather that JavaScript now better fulfils the goal: pick whatever language you like and run it in the browser. 

PostScript:

I was intrigued to note that the Dropbox post does not render properly in Internet Explorer 10. For some reason that must appeal to geeky humour, it includes code spoken as audio, but the audio tags fail:

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instead of

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Possible reasons: the Dropbox page has a DOCTYPE of XHTML 1.0, and the files are in .wav format where IE is documented only to support MP3 or MP4. IE10 therefore refuses to play the audio, which works fine in Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox.

The significance of this is not so much the technicalities, but rather what it implies about how many people now use IE in the community most likely to read this post.

Embarcadero previews Metropolis in RAD Studio XE3: fake Metro apps?

Embarcadero has released a video (embedded at the foot of this post) previewing RAD Studio XE3, the next version of the application development suite which includes Delphi and C++ Builder.

Two big new features are Metropolis applications and an new HTML5 Builder tool which looks like a next-generation PHP Builder.

Metropolis – a neat name until Microsoft back-pedalled on the Metro designation for Windows Runtime apps – appears to be a framework for apps that look like Windows Runtime apps but in reality are not. At least, that is my presumption for “VCL Metropolis applications”. The VCL (Visual Component Library) is a Delphi framework (usable also in C++ Builder) which is tied to Windows and GDI, the old-style Windows graphics API, along with many other Win32 APIs. GDI does not work in the Windows Runtime.

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No matter, all we need is full-screen apps, touch input, and a don’t-call-it-Metro look and feel, and presto, Windows Runtime apps in all but name. They might even run on Windows 7.

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A glimpse at the controls.

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Except that there will be significant differences between Metropolis and Windows Runtime. No support for Contracts, for example, the Windows Runtime mechanism for inter-app communication; no delivery from the Windows Store; no support for Windows RT.

The big issue though is this: why would you want a desktop app to look like a Windows Runtime app? And will not users be mightily confused?

The video then goes on to talk about converting existing apps with a “Convert to Metropolis UI” menu option. It turns out though that you can also create FireMonkey Metropolis apps, and the Convert to Metropolis UI option is shown with a FireMonkey app, not a VCL app. Since the FireMonkey framework is designed for cross-platform and uses custom drawing for all its controls, potentially a FireMonkey app could be a real Windows Runtime app, though I get the impression it probably is not.

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I do think Embarcadero needs absolute clarity here, which is notably lacking in this preview. There is no point in pretending that a Win32 app is a Windows Runtime app when it is not. I have asked for further information.

HTML5 Builder

There is also a quick look at HTML5 Builder.

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This tool targets server-side development with PHP, as well as apps for web,iOS,Android, Blackberry and Windows Phone. My guess is that there is PhoneGap/Cordova under the covers. I also saw some jQuery in the demo.

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Here is a look at the CSS3 colour picker.

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Update: looks like Embarcadero found a way to fake Live Tiles as well:

Metropolis applications are really traditional "desktop" applications styled to look like the Metro UI.
The TLiveTemplate component spawns a new process in the WinRT space which is is an actual WinRT LiveTile application. The LiveTile communicates with the Metropolis "desktop" backend via HTTP/REST to start/stop the application or update the LiveTile.

The screenshots are drawn from this video, or you can watch it on the Embarcadero site here.

For more info from attendees of the RAD Studio XE3 world tour see also:

http://members.adug.org.au/2012/08/22/highlights-of-the-sydney-xe3-event/

https://forums.embarcadero.com/thread.jspa?threadID=75773

Interview: Salesforce.com exec Parker Harris on the technology behind the platform

A couple of months ago, I attended Cloudforce in London, where I spoke to Salesforce.com co-founder Parker Harris, Executive Vice President, Technology.

The Salesforce.com platform is interesting for all sorts of reasons. The company has been a powerful advocate of cloud computing from before its adoption by other industry giants, and its service is as far as I can tell well liked by its customers. The technology is interesting as well. The CRM (Customer Relationship Management) application that is the core of the Salesforce.com offering is both a web application and a web service API, with more transactions conducted programmatically than through the browser. The Force.com platform is multi-tenanted, and the company believes that only this type of platform delivers the full benefits of cloud computing. In December 2010 the company acquired Heroku, at the time a company dedicated to running Ruby applications in the cloud, though it now has a broader offering. Salesforce.com was also where I first heard the term “Social Enterprise”, a phrase now taken up by others such as IBM and Microsoft; in fact, Social Enterprise was the dominant theme at Cloudforce.

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I asked Harris how the company copes with scaling its platform as demand grows.

“We’ve gone through a few changes. We came up years ago with a concept we call a ‘pod’, which is one set of multi-tenant customers. There’s a database in there, there’s application servers, search servers, all kinds of things. So that was a unit of scale. And we invested heavily in capacity planning, just to watch and see how those grow, and so we fill them up to a certain size and then we grow horizontally and add more.”

Harris adds that pods are organised in sets called super-pods, which provides isolation in the event of a failure.

One of the goals is to make the system scale horizontally, whereas the Oracle database on which the platform is built tends to be a vertical unit of scale. "

“We’re doing a lot of research work in looking at horizontal scalable systems like Hbase for example, to look at how can we do more horizontal stores. And then finally we’re in the middle of a process of moving a lot of our processing to completely asynchronous handling, so that as transactions come in they’re being handled in an asynchronous way. Even though the consumer feels like it’s synchronous, the back end will be completely asynchronous, which will then give us even more control and capability to scale.”

In the past I have thought of the Force.com platform as in effect a big database. I asked Harris if that is still the case?

“We have big databases, but I think of it more as a meta-data platform. Behind that meta-data we do have a big database, we also have a big file store, we have a big search engine, which is another unit. That’s really what you know as Salesforce.com. And that’s fully multi-tenant, it’s way at the extreme end of multi-tenancy.

“Heroku is really virtualised single tenancy. So it’s more towards an infrastructure as a service layer. For some workloads and some use cases that’s fine. If you want the predictability of ‘the software I wrote on my computer needs to run exactly the same here’, that’s where that takes place. But you don’t have the higher-level capabilities of Force.com, you don’t have everything working out of the box.

“Where we’re headed is, you’ll have the 4GL of Force.com, you’re going to have the 3GL of Heroku, and you’ll be able to choose.”

At one time Salesforce has a partnership with VMWare called VMForce. What happened to that?

“We don’t have a technical partnership with VMWare, but we do have a close relationship with them. We want to have applications that work in VMWare’s cloud able to move into Heroku or vice versa. Really what happened is, we started the relationship with VMWare and then we discovered Heroku. We were just blown away by the technology there and the team, and that was when we ended up acquiring Heroku, but we still see VMWare as a huge partner. We’re a big customer of VMWare, they’re a big customer of ours.”

You talked at Cloudforce about HTML mobile apps versus native apps, and you seem to be more on the HTML side?

“I was making the point of HTML versus native code. This is an argument that goes on inside of Salesforce, it is a religious debate, but I believe that you can build some extremely rich applications with native code, and you can build them very quickly. The complexity for me happens when you introduce business systems that are on an enterprise platform. If you think about our metadata engine, it’s very powerful, and I can create triggers, I can change the UI, I can do all these magic things, and immediately it works. Change the UI into Japanese, it immediately works.

“If I’m building something 100% native, I have to replicate that platform in the native code, and that’s for me a no-win situation, because this is going to keep moving, and the native code will be behind, it will be playing catch-up. So if it’s for an enterprise business system on a platform like ours that’s metadata driven, you really need to have that be directly from the cloud.

“If you think about the Chatter feed or the business forms, that I believe needs to be HTML5. But I want to use the camera, I want to have files local to the device, that I can open, and various programs, I want location to work, and maybe I want to use the map application: so there are some native assets too. And then when you think of security, I don’t want to have to go to a web page and enter my username and password, and maybe have to VPN in, I don’t want to do that every time I use the application.

“So instead what you do is have a native container that wraps all this HTML5 code, gives you access to things like the camera, but also is a way to store an Oauth token, it now has the right to access my data, and from then on I can just use the application. It’s really high usability.

“I also think we still have a sometimes-disconnected world. That’s frustrating. So I do think there should be a cache, a recent cache of what you’re working on. That’s my view of where we should be going with these disconnected use cases.

“So that’s where we’re going, and we’re open sourcing a lot of this. We have a native container and we’re open sourcing it so people can see how we built it and add to it. We’ve got a UI framework that we’re going to be open sourcing. It’s an HTML5 component framework. Touch, that we announced last year and is going beta now, Touch is built with that framework, and that’s the framework that we will eventually open source so people can use it with their own applications.”

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Do you use PhoneGap/Cordova for the native wrapper?

“We do. We do a lot on WebKit-enabled browsers, and when you think of the native container, it’s really going through PhoneGap to get to some of the local resources.”

What about your SOAP and REST APIs?

“We have backward compatibility for all of our APIs, because we don’t want to force people to rewrite their code. We do see lots of use  cases for SOAP, but more and more people are doing RESTful interfaces, and when their writing these mobile applications they really want REST APIs so we’re building a lot more of our own.”

How has Heroku evolved since you made that acquisition?

“There are a couple of huge events. One is, they were just a Ruby platform when we acquired them, and now they are a polyglot platform, so they can run many different languages. They’ve also shown how they’ve built support for these other languages, so other people are able to write support for other languages.

“The other big change was when Facebook on their developer page said, if you want to build a Facebook page or application, here’s how to do it, and if you want it hosted in the cloud, use Heroku. There may be others by now, but we saw a massive uptake in the number of applications being created. We’ve seen a huge number of applications grow from when we acquired it to now and with a big spike through that Facebook relationship.

“We have Heroku enterprise bundles that are available now. People are buying Heroku as part of a SELA, or a Social Enterprise License Agreement.

“Developer adoption is still very important. We want to monetise it, but we don’t want to lose this huge asset of the appeal to the developer community. It’s still early for Heroku.”

I also spoke to Harris about the Social Enterprise concept, but will post that separately.

Telerik releases Kendo UI components for ASP.NET MVC

Component vendor Telerik has released an updated version of Kendo UI, its HTML5 framework. This is the first non-beta release with support for ASP.NET MVC server wrappers, with components including Grid, ListView, calendar and date controls, tree view, menu, editor and more. Kendo UI supports the MVVM (Model View ViewModel) pattern popular with Microsoft developers.

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Telerik seems to be treading a careful path, maintaining its strong links to the .NET developer community while also creating a framework that can be used on other platforms.

I spoke to Todd Anglin, VP of HTML5 tools. Why the support for ASP.NET MVC – is Telerik seeing this becoming more popular than Web Forms, the older ASP.NET approach to web applications?

“Something in the range of 70% of ASP.NET developers are on web forms. We do see a bit of a trend that as they start new projects, developers are adopting ASP.NET MVC and HTML5, which is where it makes sense to use Kendo UI,” he told me.

The main reason though is that Kendo UI is less suitable for Web Forms, where more of the client-side code is generated by the framework. “Web Forms are a very high level abstraction,” said Anglin. “With MVC developers are a little closer to the metal.”

That said, he is not ruling out a Web Form wrapper for Kendo UI long-term.

Anglin says Kendo UI’s use of JQuery is a distinctive feature.  “Over the last few years JQuery has clearly risen above the pack to be the most common core Javascript library and the one most developers are familiar with. Unlike most commercial libraries out there Kendo UI chooses the JQuery core as the starting point and builds on that, so developers that adopt Kendo UI have a smoother on-ramp.”

Kendo UI supports both mobile and desktop web applications, but with different controls. “We believe that developers should offer experiences that are tailored to each device class, which is why you have Kendo UI web for keyboard and mouse, and Kendo UI mobile with a mobile-specific interface. We share code behind that, like the data source, between web and mobile, but we don’t think the interface on a mobile device should be the same as you show on a desktop browser,” said Anglin.

What about the tools side? Although Anglin says “We want to be agnostic on tools”, there is particularly good support for Visual Studion. “Kendo UI integrates with anything that supports HTML and JavaScript well, which includes the latest version of Visual Studio. We are delivering full vsdoc support for Visual Studio so that developers in that environment get Intellisense for JavaScript. But if you’re on a Mac you can use other tools,” he told me.

More interesting is a forthcoming cloud IDE. “We’ve just revealed a new tool called Icenium which is a cloud-based development environment for creating apps in HTML and JavaScript. It’s an incredible environment for building apps with Kendo UI.”

How about HTML5 apps that target the Windows Runtime (Metro) in Windows 8 – will Kendo UI work there? Apparently not:

“It’s certainly something we’ve paid attention to. Telerik’s primary position for Windows 8 runtime and Windows 8 development is with the traditional .NET targeted tools. Our RAD tools later this year will focus on introducing XAML and HTML tools for Windows Runtime. The HTML tools that we introduce will have a shared engineering core with Kendo UI, but we’ll make a tool that is specifically targeted at that runtime.

“Kendo UI is really focused on the cross-platform, cross-browser experience. You write once, at a core code level, and then use all the runtimes out there for HTML and JavaScript. Whereas Windows Runtime is leveraging familiar technology in HTML and JavaScript, but when you write a Windows Runtime app you are writing Windows software. It’s very platform-specific.”

Book Review: Smashing UX Design (a great read for developers too)

That the abbreviation UX can appear in a book title without expansion says a lot about the extent to which user-focused design is now embedded in the web development industry. The theory behind it is that User Experience is primary when designing a web site. The word "experience" suggests that this is not just about usability, or attractiveness, or performance, or enjoyment, but rather about all those things and how they combine when the end user is navigating your site.

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This book is for professional designers who want techniques for putting UX design into practice. The authors, Jesmond Allen and James Chudley, work for UX consultancy Cxpartners, based in Bristol in the UK, and the book is written from their perspective, including tips on how to work with your clients. That said, this is an excellent read even if you do not fall into that niche, thanks to the expertise and professionalism which informs the content.

There is a note right at the start of the book about the interaction between development and design teams which seems to me of key importance:

In order to produce designs that development teams can utilize, it is helpful for UXers to understand the development process they will be using. As external consultants, we do not always have the opportunity to work with development teams on a daily basis as they create a functional product from our designs, although we always strive to make ourselves available to developers as they work. Internal UX staff will likely have a much closer relationship with their development teams.

Some developers may see UX activities as troublesome big design up front. However, UX activities contribute to requirements gathering and backlog prioritization activities. These activities typically take place long before development sprints begin.

In order to produce robust products, it is important that UX research and design activities take place throughout the design and build cycle, whether it is product managers, UXers, or developers who perform the activities.

The emphasis is mine. A bad scenario, for example, runs like this. The project is initiated and handed to a design team, who come back with good-looking sketches and mock-ups. The developers then implement the design, but discover that it does not quite work as-is, maybe because the designers did not appreciate every nuance of the workflow, or because of evolving new requirements, or performance problems, or any number of other issues.

At this point the developers may endeavour to match the not-quite-working design as closely as possible, blaming shortcomings on the “bad design”. Or they may adapt the design to work better technically, potentially wrecking the design concept and delivering something which users will perceive as odd. This scenario is more likely to occur when budgets are particularly constrained and the design team external.

Note that Agile methodology has always emphasized that the team is the whole team – stakeholders, developers, designers, users, everyone – so it makes sense to keep designers involved right through the process. Put another way, do not allocate a design budget and spend it all up-front, before development begins.

It all comes down to communication, respect and understanding between team members, which is why this book is one that developers as well as designers should read.

Be clear: this is not a book about technology, so look elsewhere (perhaps to one of the other Smashing titles) if you want help with making beautiful web pages using CSS, or a how-to guide for building web sites. Smashing UX Design is about the process rather than the outcome, though there are plenty of practical tips along the way.

The book is in four parts. Part one is a general introduction to the concepts behind UX design and planning UX projects. Part two covers tools and techniques for UX research and evaluation, such as running requirements workshops, usability tests, surveys, analytics, and expert reviews.

The third part is about tools and techniques for UX design. If you are wondering what an Ideation Workshop is, you will find out how to run one here. Another technique described is how to create a "user persona", a fictional user who represents a category of users. There is also a discussion of wireframes, sketches and prototypes.

Finally, the fourth part looks in more detail at UX design for specific site pages, including the home page, search, product pages, shopping carts, images and tables. This is the section of most general interest, being full of practical suggestions and thought-provoking comments on what makes web pages work well for the user.

There is a too-brief chapter on mobile UX and this is a weakness of the book: not much on how tablets and smartphones are impacting UX design.

If you run or plan to run a web design business, then the book is perfect. It is also a great read for professional web developers. Individuals who are doing their own web design, or just want to understand it better, will find good content here but also a rather jargon-heavy style and probably more information than they need about working with clients and running workshops of various kinds.