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Is your software Microsoft Platform Ready?

Just came across a really interesting website that Microsoft has put together to help Independent Software Vendors get quick and easy access to a whole bunch of information all in one place, instead of having to visit MSDN, TechNet, downloads etc.  The site provides plenty of information about logo certification programs, developer resources such as training and testing tools and opportunities to help you market your solutions.

Supported Technologies:

Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2, SQL Server 2008 R2, Microsoft Office 2010, SharePoint 2010, Exchange 2010, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, and Windows Azure including SQL Azure.

So speed up your time to market if you’re building simple add-ins, rich client applications, complex client and server solutions or planning your future with cloud services and get over to the site

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Day 01: Imagine Cup 2010 round 1 is over

Team Dice did a great job of selling myDerm to the panel of 4 judges in Round one of the Software Design.  The judges were really rigourous with a tonne of great questions that dug deep in to the details of their solutions.  The team did a great job of answering these questions, and they all new how to give some great reasoning behind how they built the system.

After waiting till 9:30 in the evening, all the students gathered in the Palace of Culture to await the news of who would go through to the next round, yes out of 68 teams from all other the world, on 12 would go through, and that means that 56 teams would have to end there journey to the final.  After 5 teams being announced, we heard “and for the first time, from the small island in the Mediterranean… Malta”.  The teams reaction was euphoric!  I was so happy that they made it thru and the team really could not believe they had done it.

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Day 01 : Imagine Cup 2010 – Poland

It’s great to be in Poland, the host country for the 2010 Microsoft Imagine Cup!!  The Novotel is packed with students from all over the world, 68 countries to be exact.  After a team briefing all teams will be given 25 minutes to set up, 20 minutes to present and 15 minutes of grueling Q&A from the expert panel consisting of 4 judges!!  Today is also the day that the students setup their showcase booth to show off their creations and I must admit they are amazing. 

After today, only 12 teams will be moving on to Round 2 of the Software Design competition, whilst others will be competing in categories like Embedded development and Game Design (also fascinating and worthy of another post).  I will be blogging all the teams I can get to see present so watch out for more posts.

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Small Basic v0.9 released

http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/ff384126.aspx

This is a little app, literally around 5MB that really makes learning to program fun. 

Marking the 300k download milestone, comes the 9th installment of Small Basic, the fastest and the best yet!  This version of Small Basic packs a ton of bug fixes, performance improvements and some of the most requested features.

There is a faster compiler and runtime, ability to play sounds and music, shapes objects and controls!!

Enjoy learning to code and do some cool stuff really quickly.

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and then there was Pivot…

Well I thought Power Pivot was cool, but then again I’m not a huge fan of spreadsheets and numbers 🙂 Well, I was in Albania presenting Silverlight 3 & 4 at DevDays last week and a colleague tells me to take a look at Microsoft Pivot.  

The guys at Live Labs must have a great time with their experiments, and Pivot is probably one of their most ambitious to date. Pivot makes it easier to interact with massive amounts of data in ways that are powerful, informative, and fun. It takes a complex hierarchy of data and makes it so simple to navigate.

Well I must say I was also suitably impressed at little app built as a Silverlight client.  The interface was smooth and intuitive, actually quite slick to be honest.  The speed that it sliced and diced thousands of images was amazing.  I also particularly like the ability to create your own collections using Excel, through the use of a small add in that can be downloaded for free and works with both 2007 and 2010. (Hey we’re back in Excel again 🙂 ) Anyhow,stop reading this and hop over to the site and get installing.  I can wait until I can embed the collections into my own sites, but then again I don’t think I will have to wait long!

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IE9 CTP is here!! faster and even better standards support

IE 9 is now in the Community Technical Preview phase, meaning you can now publicly download it and test it!!  http://ie.microsoft.com/testdrive/

 

The focus of this release so far is 3 fold:

  • Speed : Take full advantage of your hardware with background compiled JavaScript

  • HTML5 Demos: Deliver rich interoperability with the next generation of Web standards
  • Graphics Demos: Create next-generation experiences with GPU-powered HTML5 graphics
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Microsoft Office Web Apps CTP

As a avid SkyDrive user for sharing my presentations etc after events I was in for a nice surprise a few days ago!  I was asked to join a new preview program:

So after accepting the EULA I was glad to see that I can now not only upload my Word, Excel and PowerPoint files, but I can also edit them thru my web browser, without the need to install any plug-ins etc.

The experience bares the same ribbon appearance for access to functionality that allows me to add slides, change fonts, embed media etc. I can even sort and filter rows in excel very much like I would in the classic Excel 2007.  And if that’s not enough, I can still take the document offline, edit and save it back to SkyDrive using Office 2010 🙂

At first I was a little disappointed when I though that I needed the desktop applications installed in order to create brand new documents, but just as I finished writing this post I found it!!  I can create new documents right in my browser.

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Visual Studio 2010 goes (RC) Release Candidate

In case any of you did not notice but Visual Studio is now one more step closer to final release.  Yes, its now in the release candidate stage.  As you can imagine there are going to many new goodies in different areas, web developers, enterprise architects, project leaders, data access, cloud computing etc.  Over the course of the next few posts I will try to pinpoint a few of my favourites and how you can check them out really quickly.  If you can’t wait to see whats new: http://www.microsoft.com/visualstudio/en-us/products/2010/default.msp

And the download link to Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate RC is here: http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=457bab91-5eb2-4b36-b0f4-d6f34683c62a&displaylang=en

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Bringing back the FUN to programming!

I just wanted to create a small post that could act as a starting point or reference for all those people seeking to embark on a career in programming. 

We’ve all played games on our PC’s, games consoles or on the internet through a browser. Or perhaps you have used some applications on your computers to either get your everyday work done or just to pass the time 🙂 and hopefully asked yourself “How could I create something like that?"  I bet many of you answer that with “I’m sure it must be quite tough!” or “that will take ages” or “I bet its boring :)”

Well, luckily a lot of people at Microsoft have been working hard to make getting into programming much easier and much more Fun!  Many programming languages are either to complicated to get started and therefore you give up before you even begin, getting stuck just trying to install what the programming needs before you even get to write a line of code.  Other programming packages are simply too easy and basic to be of any use.  While others teach you some great fundamentals but then you have to learn a whole new language and way of doing things as soon as you change the problem you are trying to solve.

So, enter what I would like to call the ‘learning tools

Small Basic, currently v 0.7 is a really simple application with just 15 keywords to get you started.  What this means is that there are a few commands that will take you a long way towards learning the basics of programming like, sequence, looping, iteration and decisions with a very English, or more specifically, BASIC feel to the language that removes the need to learn a whole bunch of commands.  Don’t be deceived, you can still create graphics, sounds, show images, accept user input, read the mouse position and lots, lots more!  There’s a great document to get you started here.  Inside there are nice examples of how to get used to using variables, reading user input, branching and the fun of looping to fill the screen with lines and text! Random number generators and the turtle also lend them selves very well to fun and creative a ways to use graphics and teach looping.  What amazed me is the fact that you can also use Event driven programming so that you can respond to user clicks and other events and also graduate your code into the fully fledged programming language VB.NET.  So if Small Basic is not enough to do what you planned, you don’t have to throw away all that code and start again, it will all be translated into a new project that you can extend and build upon.

The next free application that is great to teach fundamental programming skills is called ‘Kodu’.  This programming tool from Microsoft Research teaches game programming using what’s called a Visual Programming Language or VPL.  The idea behind Kodu is simple, let kids and adults alike create games quickly and easily for their Windows based PC or XBOX game console.  There is no need to learn a programming language and ‘worlds’ can be easily created using either an XBOX 360 controller connected to a PC (wired or wireless) or using the keyboard and mouse with the latest version of the software.  Designing the game is quick and easy without having to ‘code’ the User Interface, however there are some pretty nice features to help make your game very playable and enjoyable.  Objects can be added to the world in various shapes, sizes, colours and with ranging features.  What’s more, each object can be made to react to events, such as colliding with the games hero.  The idea is simply ‘code’ using the gamepad, WHEN ‘something happens’ DO ‘something’, as you can see in the screenshot on the right.   There are numerous start worlds that will teach you the skills to play and build your own game worlds, as well as to act as starting points for you to customize and make your own!  Nobody likes starting from a blank piece of paper 🙂  Kodu is currently in in Technical Preview, meaning it’s not quiet ready but it’s free for anyone to download from here and get started in the world of Game programming.

The next lot of programming applications need a little bit of skill and more determination to master, but as they say, ‘no pain no gain’.  Having said that, the next two are based on Visual Studio and in my opinion it’s a great programming environment that not only helps you get started quick but also takes you a long way into creating complex business application, real time systems, desktop or mobile applications and even websites, all with one tool and one interface.  Visual Studio is Microsoft’s flagship programming product that come in various editions and versions.  The latest is the 2010 edition that is still in Beta.  Unfortunately, just for now, the two tools I will mention are not supported in this version but mostly likely will be when the product ships in this year.  So for now I would suggest downloading the Free Express Editions based on the 2008 edition from here.

So if you are into game programming the first place to start is XNA Game Studio 3.1.  This free add-in can be downloaded installed into Visual Studio Express to provide new game creation templates.  Basically, what this means is that the Visual Studio will be the programming environment and the add-in will give you a starting point and framework to get your games up and running quickly, without you having to worry too much about things like the game loop, how to handle multiplayer games, making sounds etc.  Here the developer uses C# to code events like collisions, paint objects to the screen and keep track of bullets etc with just a few lines of code to get started.  The coder can use the power of Object Orient Programming to Inherit objects properties, methods and events so as to learn how to not only be a good programmer, but also how to save tonnes of time!!  The XNA Creators Club has plenty of tutorials and resources to help you get your PC installed with all the great free tools and articles to read to help you on your way.  The site also acts as a great place for the game creation community to meet, share ideas, ask questions, get help and even sell your games!

The last application I would like to talk about is Microsoft Robotics Developer Studio.  Again this is an Add-on to Visual Studio, meaning that you have to have an edition of Visual Studio already installed to make this work.  The studio can be downloaded for free from the here, and basically allows the hobbyist, academic and commercial developers to create robotics applications for a variety of hardware platforms.  What’s great is that you can get into robotics even if you cannot afford to buy a robot, since the studio comes with a simulation environment that will help you get started really quickly.  If you do have a little cash, then a good entry level bot would be the Lego Mindstorm, since these are easy to get hold off, full compatible to be programmed via USB or wireless!  Again, you can use the VPL to quickly code the robots actions or you can use the power of C# to program a fully autonomous robot capable of reacting on it’s own to its surroundings via the numerous sensors available, such as sound, vision and touch.  The robotic studio gives you the editor, debugging tools and simulators right inside the the Visual Studio developer environment.

OK, so that is my primer for anyone wishing to get started in a career to do with programming, whether you are just starting out or looking to make a switch.  No body said programming had to be boring or un exciting!  With all these great, free tools out there it’s just a question of finding the time to say, “What do I want to build today?”

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