DotNet

Would you bet on WPF, Silverlight or HTML5?

There’s nothing like someone saying some technology is “dead” to really create a storm. It’s even more of a controversial thing when it’s said by a former Microsoft Product Manager for Silverlight about what many consider a key technology for Microsoft i.e. WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation).

Scott Barnes, made some interesting statements on where he thought WPF, Silverlight and HTML5 were headed in the overall Microsoft Strategy. His overall assertion was that WPF was on a road to nowhere and that most of the internal love was for Silverlight and increasingly for HTML5. This even prompted Scott Guthrie of Microsoft who manages the teams that builds these products to state

scottgu

I have no special insight into whether Scott Barnes is right and I’ve no reason to believe that someone as respected and trusted as “The Gu” is not being honest.

My own insight and thoughts on this, with 20 years experience, in the technology/software industry is that I would be very surprised if there weren’t tensions between product groups at Microsoft. I think that is the nature of a large corporate business like Microsoft and I’m sure the Windows 7 team doesn’t like the Managed Code .NET teams and possibly views it with suspicion. It might explain the reason that we’ve not seen any WPF app built into Vista/Windows 7. I have previously blogged and stated at Microsoft Partner  meetings why Microsoft wasn’t porting more of it’s own apps to WPF? Something even as less controversial as Windows Live Messenger remains as a standard Windows app.

Betting on technologies is what we do and we do it for and with our customers everyday. I know that often the range of technologies/solutions from Microsoft are quite large but from my experience customers do need choice as to how they build solutions. Even if Microsoft had only one way to build apps then people are sill faced with a wide choice of building software whether that be Java, PHP, C/C++, Python, Ruby, Objective C, Adobe Air and running it on different platforms.

The fundamental principle behind WPF/Silverlight that we needed to bridge the gap between UI designers and developers was a sound one, and that by having a declarative language like XAML we could do valuable stuff easily/quickly without hardcore programming in C# or VB.NET was absolutely right. It’s true to say that we haven’t seen a huge rush for people to build WPF apps and that Silverlight has probably been more successful. I have just installed the new Seesmic Desktop 2 Beta which is built on the out of browser Silverlight capability.

There is now talk of HTML5 killing Silverlight and I guess by inference Adobe Flash as well and I saw an article today saying whether it will kill Javascript. It is with little doubt that HTML5 is going to be a very important move in web based applications. HTML is a funny old beast! It’s one of those technologies which was designed to give a very basic user experience because we are essentially working with the lowest common denominator to get a uniform experience, i.e uniformly bad!!. We then had more stuff pushed to the browser with Flash for more interactive experiences and then AJAX and more recently Silverlight. HTML5 is still developing as a specification whereas Silverlight is here and now and provides a great set of developer/designer tools and capabilities.

Obviously, we have some “big beasts” backing HTML5 such as Apple & Google. Microsoft cannot be seen to backing away on HTML5 because it’s been there and done that before. That’s why it’s been quick to release the public beta of IE9.

So, which do you back? Well, I think it does really depend but it’s still a very good bet to be backing Microsoft technologies!

The Microsoft Web Platform & Increasing Revenue

It’s no secret that I am fan of Microsoft technologies but there is no point in being a fanboy of a technology if it’s not delivering for your clients and ultimately for you as a business. It’s always great, when as a business owner, you can deliver a solution that makes a fundamental impact for your client and allows them to grow their business and be more successful. This is one of those occasions that I’d like to share.

Last year we started working with a company in Luton which provides car parking facilities for the popular Luton Airport. The car parking is provided offsite and is just outside the perimeter of the airport. It’s a competitive business and relies on taking much of it’s bookings online. It is therefore imperative that the business has an efficient and usable site.

Our client had a website but it was an old site which had been developed in ASP and used SQL Server 2000 as the backend database. It was hosted by a relatively unknown company which didn’t deliver the best service in the world. The website could only be accessed by Internet Explorer because key parts of it were implemented using VB Script. The payment system was integrated through to SagePay and there was a VB Basic application which the staff ran to access bookings from the SQL Server. It was a system that was not scalable and not reliable as the site would often stop connecting to database (at least once a week). This could only be fixed by a support email to the hosting company, who would reply with saying it was fixed but never said what the problem was or how to resolve it permanently. The system was no longer supported by the original developers.

Our client recognised all these issues and that it was holding their business back and had employed a relatively large IT/Software outsourcing business to develop a new site for them. This business failed to deliver and produced virtually nothing after 12 months and a serious of money having been spent.

Having eventually approached us, that is Ardent iSys, we embarked on a complete redevelopment of the site. We chose to develop the site using ASP.NET MVC 1.0, JQuery and SQL Server 2008. The aim was to put the entire business online, so that the backend booking management could be accessed via the browser as well. We moved the hosting to iomart using two dedicated servers running Windows Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008 on the second server. This gave significant scalability and the possibility of hosting multiple sites on this platform/configuration. Since deployment at the beginning of the year there has been zero downtime due to platform issues and the hosting is backed by SLAs. The costs have risen for the hosting but this is well worth the money for having your business up and running all the time. The new site can be found at http://www.airportcarparkz.com and is a complete end to end development by Ardent iSys including the site design. This site was developed in about a 6 month period and since going live has functioned without any critical issues or causing the business to be offline for any time at all. The site can now be accessed via any browser and as we are using ASP.NET MVC we will eventually make the site W3C compliant. We are working on a new site design which is why we haven’t made the site fully W3C compliant at the moment. Gone are the days when Microsoft Web technology was the poor mocked cousin when it came to web standards.

The most important thing is that the new site is competing with some of our client’s bigger car parking competitors and after seeing the site they have started to get in touch with our client. The traffic to the site jumped rapidly after initial launch as people were able to use different browsers. Bookings have been steadily climbing and the search engine ranking of the site has gown as well. During the last few months traffic to the site has risen again by 40% and the revenue is greater than at anytime during the businesses existence.

There are plans to add a content management system, provide business reports from SQL Server about bookings and build an affiliate programme. The site is no longer a block to growing the business and our client can now concentrate on building and further growing revenue and profitability. They now know they have a technology solution that can deliver for them a Microsoft partner who can make that happen for them.

We are now developing a new site for a holiday business for this client which will be developed using ASP.NET MVC 2.0 and hosted on the same platform.

Free Programming Resources from Microsoft

Here are some great FREE resources for software development from Microsoft

Event : Visual Studio 2008 and .NET Framework 3.x – 3 day instructor led course from 19-21 February. Check out the Partner Portal for more info. You’ll probably get waitlisted for it and you have to be a Certified Partner but worth a go anyway as it’s zero cost.

Free eBooks on LinQ, ASP.NET AJAX and Silverlight. Check out this blog post for the details.

Virtual WPF Bootcamp – FREE

Yep, it’s FREE and no need to register for this 3-day Virtual WPF Bootcamp. Everything you need to learn about developing in Windows Presentation Foundation. Dust off the Visual Studio 2005 Standard Ed discs you got in the Action Pack and put it to some good use. Great idea by Microsoft and I’m looking forward to other sessions on Visual Studio 2008 and Expression Blend 2.0. Now if only I had any designs skills :-(

MSDN Event – Birmingham

I was at the MSDN Event in Birmingham this afternoon entitled “Overview of Visual Studio 2008 and .NET Framework 3.5″ presented by Daniel Moth and Mike Taulty of the Microsoft Developer Group. I was really glad I went because it convinced me that I should start using Visual Studio 2008 Beta 2. Daniel did a good job of convincing me that VS 2008 was a true superset of VS 2005 and as the CLR has stayed the same from Framework 2.0 -> 3.0 -> 3.5 then there’s no great problem. Framework 3.5 is a superset of the preceeding Frameworks. The headline feature in .NET 3.5 is the new language construct called LINQ (Language Integrated Query). Think of it as a SQL like syntax for working with all sorts different data types, be they objects, datasets or databases. This really shows the power of the .NET runtime, that such new language constructs can be developed without any changes in the underlying CLR. So, you’re just getting the compiler to do some clever stuff for you and produce the appropriate IL.

What you get in VS 2008 is a really productive environment with intellisense and they’ve added the Expression Web editors for CSS support. Having been using Expression Web and Sharepoint Designer 2007 recently, these are really great tools. Also, VS 2008 has extensions for doing things like Sharepoint Workflow, Office Business Applications, etc all built in. Also, it’s got new Visual designer for WPF, so it you’re wanting to do Vista based development then this is the tool of choice.

Right, I’m off to download VS 2008 Beta 2 and Framework 3.5 from my MSDN Subscription…

Mono Overview from ONLamp

This ONLamp Article gives a great overview of Mono which is an implementation of .NET on Linux and the Mono guys have also been working hard on getting Silverlight working for Linux as well with some good progress.

Microsoft and Mono cooperating?

After all the negative karma around recently, here is a more positive story. Miguel de Icaza, of the Mono Project, has been down at Microsoft at a compiler lab meeting and being taken out to dinner by Scott Guthrie. You see, get a couple of techies in a room and they’ll quite happily work together, it’s the execs that get in the way! Scott mentions the meeting and dinner on his blog.

Looks like Miguel has started on the evaluation of being able to do Silverlight on Mono as well.

Atlas Toolkit

The Atlas Toolkit is a cool framework which is essentially Microsoft’s AJAX framework. AJAX is the hot topic at the moment and is a way in which browsers can give a much more user rich experience. Have a play around with the samples on the Atlas Toolkit website. It’s amazing the effects and animations that you can get.

Subscribe in a reader