Tim Murphy's .NET Software Architecture Blog

July 2013 Entries

Review: Windows 8.1 Preview First Impressions

I have been using Windows 8 since just before the release candidate came out.  While don’t see it as a perfect operating system I really enjoy it in both Metro mode and desktop mode.  So what does the 8.1 Preview bring to us?

Start Button


The public screamed and Microsoft responded.  They put a start button on the task  bar in the desktop.  I never use the button because there are already three other ways to accomplish the same thing (the keyboard Windows button, the hardware button on the Surface Pro and the Windows button on the charms bar).

Search Changes

The search changes were one of the most disorienting changes for me.  I had gotten used to the app listing and being able to pick where I wanted to search.  The new search results are nice, but now you are forced to use search boxes within the application which I think like Windows Phone before it is a step backwards.

Along with the changes to the search charm they removed the Bing app.  While this makes sense I can see how this could cause confusion with users when they upgrade.

Launch To Desktop

One of the complaints that users have had about Window 8 is that they spend most of their time in the desktop.  With 8.1 you now have the option to boot straight to the desktop.  While I don’t see this a necessary I do believe that it is a good option so that people can get straight to work.  The dialog below shows the start screen options which not only allows you to go directly to the desktop on start but also but also how the background acts and how the start screen displays.


The Store


I also have mixed feelings about the new store interface.  There is a lot more information available in the main view, but it seems overly busy.  The app bar is where I think the new store has the advantage.  It is now easier to pick a category, go to the home page or even see a list of all the apps you have purchased (installed) on your account regardless of the machine they were installed on.

Snapping/App Launcher

One really nice improvement in 8.1 is the new app snapping features.  Being able to snap in just about any possible you want allows for much better multi-tasking.  Hypothetic

ally if you were checking on your favorite sports team and wanted to find sports apps in the store you could have a 50/50 split like below.


Along a similar vein is the feature that when one app launches another such as a link from Twitter launching IE it automatically puts it in a split screen view.


I don’t see Windows 8.1 as entirely positive or negative.  On one hand it is great that Microsoft is listening to its customer.  On the other the customer may not have felt that way if their marketing message had been better.  Once we get past the lightning rod topics of the start button and boot to start though I think there are some good improvements that will improve the user experience.  When the final bits come out in late August or early September be sure to install it.

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Review: Surface Pro 128

At the BUILD 2013 conference this year the attendees were lucky enough to get Surface Pros as one of the give-aways.  I realize this is a device that has been in the market since January of this year, but I wanted to record my thoughts as a user and a developer.


There are a number of things that I really find attractive about the Surface Pro.  One of them is the screen which is crystal clear and bright.  It is especially impressive after seeing the screen on the Acer W3 which looks like it belongs on a Fisher Price toy. 

Another perk that the Pro has over the RT is the stylus.  I spent a lot of time at the BUILD conference writing notes in the OneNote app.  It has amazing hand writing recognition.  If it can understand my chicken scratch without teaching it then it should impress most people.

Before I got the Surface I tried out both the Type Cover and Touch Cover at the Microsoft Store.  I quickly realized that at that if you are going to use the Surface for more than a few minutes at a time you are going to want the Type Cover especially if you are a touch typist.  While the first commercials highlighted the super-magnet attachment it actually is a well working system that gives you a very compact form factor.

What good is a tablet if it doesn’t work well as a tablet.  Whether it is watching videos, interacting with Twitter or playing any number of games available from the Windows Store, there are plenty of well design consumption apps that work in the tablet mode.


It is great that the Surface Pro has the Windows Desktop and can run all the same applications as Windows 7.  The one challenge is the resolution.  It is hard to read text sometimes in the desktop and the touch points are too small to use your fingers (this is where the stylus and keyboard come in handy).  As a developer this makes it a little hard to work on this as a primary device although it is doable.

Battery life is good, but it was a bit of a challenge at BUILD where there wasn’t much time to put it on the multitude of available charging stations for more than a couple of minutes between session.  On average I could get through about 3/4 of the day on a single change.  Hopefully the Surface Pro II will run on Haswell and this issue will be a thing of the past.

While Office comes with the Surface RT it does not come with the Pro.  I suggest that it is worth getting an Office 365 subscription to round out the device. 


Until I got the Surface Pro I thought that a tablet was simply a very nice toy.  After using the Surface Pro for a couple of week I have found that it has become my primary device and I am only turning to my laptop when I need the extra storage that I don’t have on the Surface giving me many more Windows 7 apps that I can run.  I would suggest that any IT pro or developer give the Surface a try as I think you can improve your productivity with it’s capabilities.  Enjoy

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BUILD 2013 - Build for Both: Windows and Windows Phone

WinPhone8Logo Windows8Logo

This review is more person to me since I have known Matt Hidinger for a couple of years now and the fact that he just announced that he is leaving Chicago to join the Windows Phone team at Microsoft in Redmond.  So let me first say congratulations to him again.

Now I can’t say that I always agree with Matt, but I do respect him.  One area that we disagree on (at least from his statement during this presentation) is that the official Twitter app is a good platform example.  His point was more that they are both built in modern design language and look like the Twitter site.  My complaint is that Twitter didn’t go far enough to enable the rich functionality that we have come to expect in the third party apps.

So what was Matt really trying to show in the session? He started by comparing and contrasting the interface components and how the same information is displayed by the two form factors.

The main key he showed for building for both is using Portable Class Libraries (PLC). When you select the platforms you want to support in the PCL template it will limit you to the APIs that are available in all the platforms you have selected.  This ensures that you won’t build code that works with Windows 8 but doesn’t run with your Windows Phone app.

He also pointed out that a good starting point for building the XAML of your applications is using copy-and-paste.  While this will not give you a finished product, it can jump start your UI development.

There was tons of other good information that Matt presentenced. I would really encourage anyone who is looking to build both Windows 8 and Windows Phone apps to check out the recording of this session.

How Can Project Spark Inspire Young Developers


At the BUILD conference last week there was a demonstration of Project Spark at the end of the first day’s keynote.  I was amazed and inspired by the possibilities presented by this game/development environment.  The inspiration came from the fact that it could teach a new generation of Minecraft hooked kids to program.  It could grab their attention and hold it with amazing graphics and at the same time teach them the basics of writing code.

From everything I have heard there is a drop in enrollment in computer degree programs, and I know that the pool of top quality developers has shrunk.  We need this kind of project to “spark” the imaginations of today’s youth, especially in America so that we have a talented pool of individuals who will come up with the next generation of technology.  Project Spark has this potential because if the variety of games that an individual can build.  They run the gambit of first person shooters and fantasy world games to interactive educational games.

Sign up at joinprojectspark.com so that you can experience the inspiration as soon as it is available.  And don’t forget to share it with a young mind who is looking for something to sink their teeth into.

Building apps that work Together


Writing apps that stand alone will only get yon so far.  If your app can allow the user to leverage other applications and share data you Can have a real winner on your hands.

Jake Sabulsky started off by explaining that you should be concentrating on the core functionality of your app and letting the framework take care of the features that users require these days.  This is implemented be leveraging contracts.  When Windows 8 was released it included the File, Share and Pickers contracts.  With the release of Windows 8.1 they have added the Contacts and Calendar contracts.

There have been a number of improvements to the original contracts. The File URI contract will now automatically detect the size that a new windows should be opened and will also allow you to programmatically influence new window size.  The Share contract has been enhanced by allowing apps to always share screenshots and links to the app in the store.

To my thinking the contracts are one of the most powerful features of Windows 8.  Take the time view this session and learn how to leverage them.