Friday, January 30, 2015

Is Your Solution Delivery Strategy About to get Avalanched by Windows 10?

HoloLens took the spotlight when //build/ 2015 announced it had sold out in under an hour, but I can't help but think at least as big a chunk of the excitement is around Windows 10 (or as we developers like to think of it, Windows Unified). As cool as HoloLens is, Windows 10 will most likely be landing in your lap long before HoloLens has images dancing in your living room. 

If you're not already preparing for Windows 10, your solution delivery stack could be in for a shock from the client up. Microsoft is in the process of launching a re-boot of itself, and Windows 10 is the fulcrum of that effort. As usual, many of its changes are aimed at pulling developers in. If solution development has a place in your organization, this will likely impact you as well. 

"Mobile First / Cloud First" is, as always, the key phrase, and for a client OS... if it's not for cloud devices.... give it a moment...  let that sink in...   Yes.  Windows 10 is an OS for mobile devices. Even if your device is a big heavy block of a workstation sitting near your monitor.  It will have the same mobile app store as phones and tablets, and it can be managed by the same Enterprise Mobile Device Manager (MDM).

Windows 8 was an introductory / transitional OS. With Windows 10, the transition matures.  Windows 10's maturity is likely to make it far more palatable than Windows 8 was. (Keep in mind that Windows 8 is only a "failure" in terms of Microsoft's other OS releases... Windows 8/8.1 has a bigger install base than some of the most "successful" of its non-Microsoft competitors. If Windows 10 becomes the hit many foresee it to be, it has potential to become the de facto standard platform to truly de-throne XP and even Windows 7.)

Windows 10 also adds a bit of a surprise, especially around browser technology.  Microsoft is tossing in to Windows 10 a whole new web browser (in addition to Internet Explorer) currently code-named Spartan. This new browser is intended to go after the consumer browser market, which IE has lost considerable ground in. I speculate that Spartan will be a breath of fresh air for consumers who feel IE's bloat-related flaws collectively compels them to download Chrome or Firefox.

If you're a web application developer who does more than a little HTML, on the other hand, you're probably already groaning. You know what a pain browser compatibility is. (The browser was never intended to be a homogenous cross-everything platform, but that's how a lot of web designers treat it, and they've shaped culture to expect it. Despite the best efforts of tools like jQuery and others to try homogenize, and trends like responsive to try to change the culture of presentation homogeny, web application developers get severely burned in the crossfire.  I've got more than a few scars to prove this, but you don't have to look further than jQuery's failed mechanisms for helping developers with these issues.    (First there was $.browser and $.browser.version, then $.support... then, "awe... heck... we give up, use Modernizr".) /rant )

Spartan is a move that makes total sense, but it can't help but add complexity to web application developers' lives.  

In fact, in my mind, the long term net message is... there's only one way to end browser pain... by getting out of web as a client platform. (Web services are the only part of the web worth salvaging.)

Microsoft has seen what platform diversification has done to its core OS business, and it's not good. Developers need a consistent platform to deliver consistent solutions on, and that's been a bigger part of Microsoft's success over the years than even they seem to have realize.

So if web application development is becoming ever more complex in an already over complicated domain, how should one produce and deploy apps?

In a word:  native (aka mobile).

Windows 10 is a unifying platform, a "pentecostal" event to counter the "tower of babel" event of Windows platforms that have fractured into existence since the end of the .NET Compact Framework era. Where before development was requiring more and more effort to support PC, tablet, smartphone, wearable and even Xbox, Windows 10 has a unified SDK across all those platforms. For the first time ever, a .NET developer can build a single solution that runs in all those devices. There may be runtime differences between platforms that have to be ironed out, still, but not compile-time  (if(system.capability.phone) {} rather than #ifdef WINDOWS_PHONE_APP)

And think about it... what are the big reasons for web deployment?   Centralized management and centralized deployment.  Think back to MDMs and mobile app stores.

(Xamarin plays a roll in all this as well. Between Windows 10 and Xamarin, developers will be able to leverage a good chunk of their code base across all hardware, even non Microsoft platforms such as IOS and Android. This, too, is a breath of fresh air, because the cost of maintaining multiple code bases (and talent pools) is ever climbing. Xamarin will likely never be the 110% development experience that the latest .NET framework is, but neither was Silverlight for Windows Phone 7, yet one could do some fairly heavy lifting with it.)

Because Windows 10 is one platform that runs across form factors, it essentially means that any app written for Windows 10 is a mobile app. In that light, it means that Windows 10 is most likely to vault Windows into the top spot for mobile platforms by its projected install base. 

This on top of Microsoft's recent "trickle up" theory of mobile market share growth, where Microsoft has been grabbing market share by targeting the feature phone market.  (This tactic has little effect in the US, where carrier subsidies nullify the low end to "$0")  At some point Windows Phone will hit critical mass outside the US. Once that happens, even US developers will no longer be able to afford to ignore it.

Even if Microsoft is not contributing directly to your solution stack, Windows 10 and its biases have potential to culturally influence your solutions and solution delivery over the next decade.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Lumia Problems

I'm a pretty serious fan of Windows Phone, and especially Lumia devices.   In addition to the NH Windows Phone Users Group (now Granite State Windows Platform App Devs),  I've convinced everyone in my immediate family, and a good chunk of my extended family to go Lumia... 

So it breaks my heart when I see a Windows Phone that's gone awry.  Among the many I've come in contact with, I've seen one or two develop issues that seem outside of normal hardware wear & tear.

My own device has occasionally had trouble with its SD card, occasionally forcing a restore.   These are annoyances to me, Windows Phone is a cloud car, so resetting the device and getting it back to normal is really only a mater of re-entering credentials, and the phone's back in business.   The restore tends to re-apply start-screen layout and the set of installed apps on the device... the apps themselves are responsible for their individual recoveries, typically from their own cloud backups.   The few times I've been forced to do a full hard reset & restore, it's been an ordeal that typically lasted under an hour (with a good Wifi connection).

This past week, I think the SD card flaked out again, but restoring from a backup didn't resolve the issues.   I identified a number of odd behaviors, and was almost convinced my device was beyond recovery:

  • Power button:  the typical short-click which should toggle the device in & out of standby mode simply was not operating.   Long clicks, intended to shut the device down completely, were working, so... not a hardware disconnect.   In order to wake the phone up, I had to plug in a power source... and then had to wait for it to put itself to sleep.
  • App updates:  app updates were identified and the device would queue them, but rather than automatically downloading and installing, they'd hang in the download queue, all marked as Pending.  Occasionally one would come up with an error, but a retry would simply hang it back in Pending state.
  • WiFi internet sharing would not allow clients to connect.
  • Power saver:  on a whim, I put the device in power saver mode.  At first, it wouldn't take the change.  Then I told it to always go in powersaver mode, and then, ironically, I couldn't get it OUT of power saver mode.
  • Data Sense:  the app would crash and abend when trying to open it.
  • Mail sync:  would only sync manually
  • Alarm:  I missed my usual bus twice this week because my alarm failed & I overslept.
The end solution:  hard reset, but don't restore from a backup...  just manually set up your accounts and re-download apps.  It took me a couple hours, but to get my 1520 back on track again, it was well worth the time.  In retrospect, I'm also happier because I didn't re-install a ton of apps that I don't use anymore, so the device is much leaner.  

The Windows Phone platform is relatively mature... it doesn't fail often, but I think I'm going to have to pick up a better SD card.  The hard part is that I think I've heard rumors of some of these symptoms on devices that don't have SD card slots.

My understanding is that it has something to do with the Cyan firmware update.  The Denim firmware may provide more stability, and that update started rolling out to devices in December with a promise that by the end of that month, it would be rolled out to the full Lumia nation.  We're pushing into Feb 2015, and most in the US are still waiting.


[Addendum, 5/7/2015]:  My Lumia 1520 had a relapse of the above symptoms on Windows Phone 8.1.1 / Denim.   On a whim, I decided to try upgrading to the Windows 10 Insider Preview.  The problems with the SD card intensified as well.  I finally bit the bullet and replaced the SD card.  I did have to hard reset the phone back to the "stock" Windows 10 Insider Preview, but after that, not only were all the above symptoms resolved, but another long running annoyance...  a problem I thought to be related to the Lumia 1520 itself, went away.  The problem...  often, entering the unlock code, number presses would repeat so quickly that the phone would fail to unlock.  Occasionally it was bad enough to lock my phone for a minute or two.    Again, this issue is now resolved along with the other symptoms I noted in this post by replacing the SD card with a new one.

Monday, January 19, 2015

AppStudio gotcha

Recently, I upgraded the Granite State (NH) SharePoint Users Group's website from WSS 3 (MOSS 2007 generation) to SharePoint Foundation 2013.  The upgrade itself went as well as a 2007 to 2010 to 2013 upgrade could go, in general.

The only real "problem" I ran into was the Windows Phone app I wrote for the group years ago.  It was coming up with a 401 error trying to grab content from lists.asmx.  

I spent some time digging in the dirt, trying to resolve the 401, and hit a few common settings known to have an impact, but no good.  

Rather than struggle with it in my not so copious amounts of spare time, I decided to trash the old app, and build a new one with AppStudio.  

The app loads content from the #NHSPUG web site (http://granitestatesharepoint.org), mostly via RSS feeds.  I put a little extra effort into this.  Using AppStudio (http://appstudio.windows.com), I found a couple hours...  after that, I had not only a much prettier v3 of the Windows Phone app, but a Windows 8.1 (tablet style) publishing package as well.

One thing that caught me off guard though... the Gotcha:

The Windows 8.1 edition of the app wouldn't load the content from the users group website. 

With some debugging, I found that attempts to load the content were coming up with "Unable to connect to the remote server. hresult=   -2146233088".

Turns out the error had to do with the fact that I had not enabled Capability "Private Networks (Client & Server" in the Package.appxmanifest.   Ironically, the app works fine anywhere except where I was trying to test it:  on the same network as the content source server. So, to be fair, this is an environmental/configuration issue, not AppStudio, but it was worth mentioning, since my original assumption led me down that path. Maybe this will help someone else.


Oh... Here's the Windows Phone app:
http://www.windowsphone.com/s?appid=8c1ce3ea-9ffd-46a0-80bd-6b45d1019b32

And here's the Windows 8.1 (tablet style) app:
http://apps.microsoft.com/windows/app/granite-state-sharepoint-users/01ea0a83-f3af-4be6-abb0-268587072686


And here's my moment of shame recording the incident and solution in the forums:
https://social.msdn.microsoft.com/Forums/windowsapps/en-US/be7b02cf-25d0-4aa2-8850-e0e2dce21fd2/appstudio-windows-81-apps-not-loading-external-content?forum=wpappstudio&prof=required

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Lumia Denim, Windows 10 Phone

Lots of folks have been looking forward to the impending Lumia Denim update for Lumia Windows Phones.  I know, cause I'm one of them.   I wish I had special insight into when my AT&T 1520 will be updated, but I don't... so I find myself checking sometimes multiple times a day hoping that the upgrade will suddenly become available. 

The amount of buzz on Lumia Denim is overshadowing a more important update, in my humble opinion.  The Windows 10 Phone update (not Windows Phone 10, but Windows 10 Phone.)

The killer feature for Windows 10 is the integration across hardware form factors...  Desktop, Laptop, Tablet, Phone and even Xbox will all be running editions of Windows 10 (thus we will have a Windows 10 Phone OS, rather than a Windows Phone 10 OS).

Recently my son ran across my old Windows Phone 6.   One thing that made me really love the platform was that I could develop code using the .NET Compact Framework, and the EXE worked anywhere that had a .NET runtime installed... and I mean anywhere.   I literally was able to take an EXE and drag it from phone to desktop and back without any form of recompile, and it would run great on either hardware.   More impressively still, I was able to take DLLs compiled for the .NET CF, and run them in unexpected places, like reference them in ASP.NET web applications...   at one point, I had code for a Sudoku game model that was running desktop, phone, and WEB server!  :)

Needless to say, I was disappointed by the fact that Windows Phone 7 used a different flavor of the .NET Compact Framework called Silverlight, and Silverlight was a lot less compatible, and required a re-write of my hobby code to make it run.   This re-write wasn't nearly so portable.  In fact, come Windows Phone 8, I had to we-write a chunk of the code I'd done for Windows Phone 7.   This has been the plight of the Windows Phone developer;  with each release of the OS comes a new set of SDKs to code against.

Like the undoing of the curse of the tower of Babelon, with Windows 10, we'll see the all the hardware speak the same language again, and this will be huge.   It's already massive to be able to suggest that you can run tablet apps on your Windows 8.1 machine.  Imagine how it will be when the lines blur further.

So... bring on Denim, please, but don't hold back Windows 10!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Cobbler's Shoes

Happy New Year! I hope you enjoyed the holidays!
 
I took time off for the holidays... not as much as I'd have liked to, but enough to enjoy it.

What'd I do?

The cobbler finally got a chance to tend to his own shoes, at least infrastructure wise.

A few years ago, I caught that MS was giving away a license to Windows System Center Core, and I realized I had enough retired hardware to cobble together a hobby-level host. I then did a Physical->Virtual on my small network of Windows 2003 based servers that I ran the NHSPUG website from.

The setup was nice, actually... all three virtual machines ran with room to spare on what was originally an old client-class PC. With dynamic RAM turned on and all three VMs cranking, they occasionally managed to consume nearly a third of the host's 8GB of RAM.

Having recently had opportunity to get a hold of platform MSDN licensing, I upgraded my entire home network infrastructure by two platform generations across the board.

Seriously... Windows Server 2003 ->  2012 R2 64, SQL 2005 -> 2014, SharePoint WSS3 -> SharePoint Foundation 2013.

Almost all of it was build, replace, rip... build new VMs, integrate them into the domain, migrate data & config as needed, then shut down the systems they replace. The fun one was SharePoint WSS 3.0 upgrading to Foundation 2013. I had to bounce the content databases off a spare 2010 farm I had left over from a project at work. It was nice that it was possible to do that, given that the 2010 farm was a different domain. It's amazing how much you can get done in short order when you are a one-man IT shop... the communications overhead savings alone is unreal.

The hard part is that newer software in the 64bit range uses much more system resources, so I have extended hosting not just to my System Center, but also to two Windows 8.1 Pro systems running Hyper-V, just to spread out the necessary load and provide some critical system redundancy.

With that, only obvious thing externally is that the Granite State NH SharePoint Users Group website ( http://www.granitestatesharepoint.org ) is now SharePoint 2013 based.

Internally, things generally seem a touch faster, smoother... maybe that's just psychological, but I notice the difference, even if my wife & kids think it just functions as always, as expected.

I guess the irony in this is that my hobby infrastructure backlog is knocked down a few more notches than I thought I would ever get to... (yes, I took time off from work, and, to chill, I did some of what I do at work.) now my hobby development backlog has new possibilities and subsequently grown substantially.

One of the first things I've got to take care of is the few services the SharePoint upgrade has caused... the NHSPUG site still has some cosmetic issues I want to sort out. My Windows Phone apps that integrated with the WSS3 site are now broken, and I have some jiggering to do with my dev environment before I can even diagnose them. That doesn't even cover some of the things I want to do with the NHWPAD group and my hobby/portfolio projects (e.g. Jimmy Sudoku).