Contents tagged with BUILD

  • Looking Back at Build 2013: Thoughts on Windows 8.1

    The Build 2013 conference took place in San Francisco from June 26 to June 28. The reason that Microsoft had another Build conference less than a year after last year’s Build 2012 was the announcement of Windows 8.1.

    Windows 8 took a lot of flak and personally, hasn’t been able to convince me to upgrade any of my devices because it didn’t seem like a good idea for my use cases (non-touch laptops, large/multi-monitor desktops).


    The “.1” indicates that this Windows release is not about major features, but (sometimes much-needed) tweaks of the 8.0 release. Two of these make it easier for me to warm up to the idea of using that OS on one of my machines:

    • Switching the search experience on the start screen back to Windows 7’s “just type what you want and I’ll find it” removes a major annoyance; Windows 8 required you to
      • either switch between search results after the fact (and who wants to be told at first that a search term yielded no results when you know it should)
      • or remember to use different hotkeys for different searches.
      Both alternatives were not exactly “Don’t make me Think” material.
    • Allowing to use the desktop background as a background for the start screen dramatically reduces the “whoa, what just happened?” effect when moving between the two worlds.

    High DPI

    My personal (long-term) killer feature of Windows 8.1 is the introduction of a 200% scaling option for desktop usage. The times of “everything is 96 DPI” are long gone with the advent of high-res displays in laptops, but using the existing scaling options introduce the problem of non-integer multiplication of coordinates and sizes. That’s why Apple went for the approach of splitting a single pixel into four pixels when they introduced “Retina” displays starting with the iPhone 4.

    The upcoming “Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus” that was shown briefly in the keynote on day one will offer a resolution of 3200 x 1800 on a 13” screen. On Windows up to version 8, this is absolutely useless in desktop mode. On Windows 8.1, with the 200% scaling option, 1600 x 900 “pixel groups” suddenly make a lot of sense.

    Things change slowly in the Windows world, so it will take many, many years until high-DPI displays become non-problematic, especially in terms of desktop applications. In that regard, the Apple side not only has a head start, but also will see a faster adoption of high-DPI displays – at some point in the future, Apple will simply not offer any other hardware.

    But every change, however slow it may be, has to start sometime. And I’m glad that Windows 8.1 is finally that starting point.


    Windows 8.0 introduced the Windows Runtime, WinRT, and regardless of how much effort you put into an 1.0 version, it can never be complete. Windows 8.1 adds new APIs and new controls to WinRT, filling some of the gaps.

    As promising as WinRT and its further development may be, my personal interest remains limited. This is caused by Microsoft’s strategy in regard to apps, which requires all apps to go through a submission process to the Windows App Store. In my opinion this is contrary to what made the PC/Windows environment so great in the first place. But that’s a topic I’ll better cover in a separate blog post.

    The Desktop

    It was encouraging to see the investments in desktop features. Beyond high DPI, the Windows team put some effort in the area of input methods (quotes from session slides: “precision touchpad”, “renewed interest in pen”).

    As a user of a Wacom Intuos 5 Touch tablet and Adobe Photoshop, I was delighted to see an Adobe representative up on stage in one of the sessions, pledging support for the things to come. Right now, I have the feeling that the tablet and Photoshop together don’t reach their full potential. I suspect that part of the reason is that the operating system could do a better job in connecting these two; on a Mac OS X computers, the touch features are reported to work better in Photoshop.

    In each of the desktop-related sessions I attended, the code samples were written in C++. This is understandable in some way, after all we’re talking about new/improved APIs for Win32. On the other hand, in order for .NET developers to be able to use the new features, somebody has to pinvoke the hell out these APIs. And I’m not sure we’ll see an official managed library from Microsoft (but I’d be happy to be proven wrong).

    The Future

    The overall feeling I got from the Build conference is that while Microsoft leaves out few opportunities to shoot themselves in the foot, they still have a lot of smart people producing a lot of really cool and powerful stuff. What this means in terms of success remains to be seen, but I wouldn’t count out Microsoft prematurely – history shows they have a long breath.

  • Welcome 2012

    Things that happened in 2011

    • MIX11 was a good conference, but not as great as MIX11. I blogged about
    • The BUILD conference (here’s my short recap) at first did a good job at exciting me about the things to come. But then too many “oh, wait a minute, so you’re saying …” moments hit me.
    • On both conferences Microsoft didn’t do much to prevent Silverlight from being labeled as “dead”. It’s a sad fact that we’re living in a world where reality is reduced to 140 characters or less. It’s just “good vs. evil”, “win vs. fail”, “the past vs. the future”.
      There was one sentence near the end of the “Standards-based web, plug-ins and Silverlight” blog post in April that did say the right thing: “HTML5 is a solution for many scenarios, but developers should make the appropriate choice based on application needs”. But the mismanaged communication by Microsoft, obviously caused by political in-fighting, puts this pragmatic “use the right tool for the right scenario” approach at risk. Why was Silverlight RC5 announced one week before BUILD? Why wasn’t the 10 year support guarantee communicated at BUILD (even if without a specific date)? 
      Other companies would have entered the stage with a loud and clear voice, telling everybody “Look at us, we’re the greatest development company in the world, we offer X and Y and Z.” – without showing the infamously silly architecture diagram.
    • On a more positive note: The dotnet Cologne 2011, the conference organized by the .NET user group Köln and my own group Bonn-to-Code.Net became the largest .NET community conference in Germany with almost 330 attendees.

    Things that I have learned/observed/noticed in 2011

    • I learned that I’m not the only one to have the growing feeling of “less participation, more consumption” in the (local) .NET community.
      A discussion at the .NET Open Space 2011 in Karlsruhe brought up the word “consumity”. In Bonn, despite the success of the dotnet Cologne conferences, the core audience has remained virtually unchanged over the years; the majority is “cherry picking” specific topics and finding speakers from within the group is tough.
    • I (again) couldn’t decide on a new smartphone to replace my vintage XDA Neo. After comparing Android, Windows Phone and iOS, I was ready to buy an iPhone (for its available software), but the 4S kept the design of the iPhone 4 which (in my humble opinion) is cool to look at, but doesn’t feel good in my hand. So one more year of being the only guy without a “real” smartphone. On the other hand my track record of waiting for a certain point in time to buy a piece of technology hasn’t been too bad.
    • I finally made the jump from Paint Shop Pro to Photoshop. Being a PSP user since 4.x, the transition – especially un-learning certain key strokes – wasn’t easy and there are still situations where I’d be faster in PSP. But of course I also gained a lot from the transition. And learning something different and trying to soak up a different philosophy from time to time isn’t a bad thing, either.

    Things I’m looking forward to in 2012

    • The dotnet Cologne 2012 on May 4th. We’ll be able to keep many sponsors from last year, but we’re also looking for new sponsors. Just drop me a line via the “Contact” link and we’ll send you our information on sponsorship opportunities. 
    • A new version of Visual Studio, which I suspect/hope to be more of a “Visual Studio 2010 R2” than something completely new.
    • Using async/await in C# in an RTM, i.e. non-CTP environment.
    • Continuing my personal path from being a software developer with an interest in GUIs to becoming a UI/UX expert.
  • Looking Back at BUILD

    BUILD, the “everything is secret”, “no information until September” conference is over and I’m back at home. Time for a personal look back.

    The Announcements

    Others have already done the job of writing a full roundup (here is one of the many), so I will give you only the the short version from a developer’s perspective:

    • Windows 8 offers a new kind of applications with a new UI (“Metro”), running on top of the new Windows Runtime (“WinRT”).
    • WinRT was developed with an emphasis on performance, both real (it is written in native code) and perceived (all API calls taking longer than 50ms are designed to be called asynchronously).
    • “Metro style apps” can be developed in C++, C# or JavaScript
      • C++ and C# applications use a XAML based UI technology, similar to Silverlight, but with higher performance and built-in touch support.
      • JavaScript applications use HTML5 and CSS for their UIs.
    • Windows 8 still allows “classic” desktop applications, developing these is not different from developing for Windows 7.

    The bottom line: A wide range of developers will feel at home writing Metro style applications. That wasn’t all that clear after the messages from the unveiling of Windows 8 at the D9 conference in June, where it was all about HTML5 and JavaScript – which made many .NET developers mad. And shutting down all channels of information until September didn’t really help making the situation any better.

    Was the intended effect of unveiling of WinRT as a surprise (i.e. “pulling an Apple”) really worth yet another Microsoft PR disaster? In a world where perception often is as important as reality, Microsoft PR really should put a bit more thought into what is said publicly and how people could react to it.

    What about Silverlight?

    The future of Silverlight after the release of version 5 later this year remains unclear. Sure, Silverlight applications won’t magically stop working in e.g. Windows 7. And it could be that Silverlight 5 is “good enough” for years to come. But there’s already the hint of a limited life time inside the Windows 8 Metro UI with its plugin-less Internet Explorer (the desktop version will allow Silverlight to run, though).

    For business applications, an area where Silverlight really shines (forgive the pun), Metro style applications are not an alternative yet. Currently all Metro style apps will have to go through Microsoft’s app store, which in many situations simply isn’t acceptable. At some point in the future Microsoft will have to offer a solution for business applications with some kind of private app store, similar to what Apple already has.

    The Sessions

    As I’m very interested in UI/UX, I attended the user experience sessions regarding the design principles behind the Metro UI, which I enjoyed very much. I can highly recommend this and this session.

    The technical sessions on the other hand were a mixed bag. Some of the “I’ll show you how to build X” talks that I saw were rather light on content, with the title promising more depth than was actually shown. There’s nothing wrong with introductory content, but the usual labeling of sessions from “level 100” to “level 400” was sorely missing. And please refrain from the term “deep dive” if your session merely gets people’s toes wet.

    Not publishing the agenda before the conference prevented people from planning their personal schedule e.g in an online application, which in turn meant that Microsoft had no data for planning the required session rooms. The result: too many sessions ended up in rooms that were way too small and many people could not see the sessions they wanted. Unlike earlier PDCs, BUILD did not offer any overflow rooms.

    Sure, the sessions were available on video the next day, but an important reason for attending a session in person is to be able to discuss the topics with other people afterwards.

    The Location

    The Anaheim Convention Center is a very typical conference location (i.e. at some point they all look the same). And because of that, two very typical problems came up:

    • The chairs are designed for skinny female super models, not laptop-wielding IT guys
    • The air condition is just too much for a European like me.

    The handling of many thousand people is something that “just works” at developer conferences in the US (at least at the ones I have been to in the last 13 years). Congratulations to the BUILD organizers and their staff for having done a good job at directing the masses when giving out the slates, feeding the hungry and keeping the fridges full of soft drinks at all times Winking smile.

    The Slate

    As mentioned above, attendees received a slate PC with a preview build of Windows 8. The machine is not actually an iPad killer, but this giveaway is not about providing people with a free toy to play around. This is a developer machine for giving attendees the opportunity to develop and test Windows 8 applications.

    The slate has an Intel x86 processor and is able to run “classic” Windows apps. This makes the machine run hot (it has a fan) and, I guess, also heavy. Things will look different on an ARM CPU, but it remains to be seen whether anybody will be able to come near Apple’s iPad from a hardware point of view.

    My Personal Takeaways

    The following list is by no means complete:

    • I’m impressed by the work on performance in Windows 8.
    • WinRT is a major step forward in many ways.
    • We’re in a transition period which will take many years.
    • The ongoing work on C# is impressive. I really like how Anders Hejlsberg and his team approaches things, thinks about the consequences and continuously improves the language and its compiler.
    • Microsoft really gets the importance of good UX. This does not necessarily translate into great UX in Metro, though, which at some points doesn’t feel quite natural yet. But they are heading in the right direction.
    • I’m disappointed by the lack of communication regarding Silverlight.
    • My development skills in C# and XAML will be still valuable in the future.
    • My skepticism towards “HTML5 + JS + CSS” (disclaimer: I have written large amounts of JavaScript in my life) wasn’t helped by the fact that one problem during a demo was caused by a simple typo that a compiler would have caught.
    • During the Ask the Experts I learned that the common Metro controls are actually not a fine example for the power of HTML5. Many calls to WinRT are necessary behind the scenes to achieve the performance or fully support touch. I don’t have a problem with that, people just shouldn’t look at the UI and think “who needs anything else besides HTML5, JS”.
    • I really like the concepts for interoperability between applications e.g. via contracts.
    • The pooled storage feature of Windows Server 8 (pool of storage space across multiple hard drives) looks like something that could bring back the Drive Extender feature to a future version of Windows Home Server.

    The following months and years are definitely going to be interesting!