December 2010

Windows Phones in Canada

by Joey deVilla on December 28, 2010

Want to know what Windows Phone 7 devices are being offered by Canadian telcos? I’ve got the list below:

Telus

telus wp7 phones

Telus offers two Windows Phones:

  • HTC 7 Surround. This is the one with the slide-out Dolby Surround speakers and a little kickstand so you can use it as a mini video player. The speakers are surprisingly loud and clear and our coworker Anthony “The Mobile Situation” Bartolo used them to great effect at TechDays this year, annoying us with the Jersey Shore soundtrack.
  • LG Optimus 7. This one’s for people with DLNA-equipped TVs (or in a pinch, a TV with an Xbox hooked up to it) – you can use DLNA to send the pictures and videos on your phone to a nice large screen. It’s great for presentations, vacations slides or even movie-watching.

Bell

bell wp7 phone

There are a number of people who refuse to use on-screen virtual keyboards and like the reassuring feel of a button’s “throw”. If you’re one of these people, Bell’s LG Optimus Quantum is the Windows Phone for you, with a slide-out keyboard. I’ve taken it out for a test drive at the store and it feels pretty nice.

Rogers

rogers wp7 phone

I’m on Rogers (as are all Microsoft employees in Ontario – the company pays for our phones and plans), and their Windows Phone is the Samsung Focus. It’s sexy, skinny, much lighter than you’d expect for a device with this kind of horsepower and it sports a bright, crisp 4” Super AMOLED screen, just like the one on the Galaxy S. I end up doing a lot of impromptu demos with this phone, and everyone walks away impressed.

Expansys

expansys site

If you’re in the market for an unlocked WP7 phone, or perhaps a WP7 phone that the Canadian telcos aren’t carrying, Expansys are the go-to people. If you’ve been to one of the big Microsoft conferences in the US – PDC, TechEd North America and so on – you’ve probably seen their booth. They’re the go-to guys for all sorts of mobile devices, including the hard-to-get ones.

They have a Canadian site, www.expansys.ca, and they’ve got a very extensive selection of Windows Phone 7 devices. Better still, their service is great. When I screwed up my last order and accidentally ordered the European version of a phone that wouldn’t be compatible with HSPA+ over here, a quick email to their service was all it took for them to fix the problem and let me know it was fixed. I salute them with a filet mignon on a flaming sword!

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

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Wishing You Some Nerdy Holidays

by Joey deVilla on December 24, 2010

happy holidays

I’d like to wish all my readers a safe and fun holiday season! Whether you celebrate Christmas, Chanukah, Festivus or anything else, have a fun one, enjoy the downtime, be safe, go work on your favourite side project (even if it’s doing nothing at all) and take a peek here every now and again — you never know what I might sneak in here over the break.

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The "start" screen for "Pirates Love Daisies"

If things get a little too quiet and boring during the holiday downtime and you’re looking for a game, try Pirates Love Daisies. It’s a “tower defense” style game with cute graphics, great sound and very addictive gameplay, and you can play it in a browser that supports the HTML5/CSS/JavaScript troika (often just referred to as the catch-all “HTML5”), which includes the current beta of Internet Explorer 9. In the game, you set up pirates with different combat skills (pistols, swords, cannons and sponges) in strategic locations to defend your patch of daisies from rates, seagulls, crabs, octopi and their boss, the kraken.

Screen capture of checkbox that reads "Enable additional effectors for IE9 (What is this?)"

If you’re running Internet Explorer 9 or a very fast computer (like my assigned “Dellasaurus” Precision M6500 – a quad-core I7 machine with 16GB of RAM and a 1GB graphics card), try checking the Enable additional effects for IE9 checkbox – it’ll turn on some additional graphic effects in the game, such as clouds and shadows. They’re not necessary for gameplay, but they do spice it up, and you’re going to need a browser that makes use of the GPU (such as IE9) or serious hardware if you want these effects without bogging down the game.

Here’s Larry Larsen talking about Pirates Love Daisies on Channel 9:

Get Microsoft Silverlight

Can’t see the video? You can get Silverlight or download it in the following formats: high-quality WMV, high-quality MP4, regular-quality WMV, regular quality MP4 or MP3 (audio only).

Pirates Love Daisies was the first HTML5 project by Grant Skinner, a Flash developer, and was commissioned by Microsoft, who asked him to build a “best-of-breed” tower defense game using HTML5. He talks about his experience on his blog, which includes this opinion on IE9:

I never thought I’d say this, but Internet Explorer 9 actually looks to be a great browser. It has impressive performance, and seems to be very standards compliant. I would definitely recommend checking it out, you might be surprised.

Microsoft Tech Evangelist Giorgio Sardo also blogged about Pirates Love Daisies. In his post titled Pirates Love Daisies: Lessons Learned, he talks about performance and some things they learned about HTML5 game development along the way, including working with the canvas element, fonts, audio and IE9’s developer tools.

Easel JavaScript library logoPirates Love Daisies makes use of the Easel JavaScript library, which “provides a full, hierarchical display list, a core interaction model, and helper classes to make working with Canvas much easier.” Although it’s still in early alpha, it works well enough for Pirates Love Daisies, which uses it to manage and render the game screen.

And finally, where does Pirates Love Daisies live? In the cloud! It’s hosted on Windows Azure as proof that Azure’s not just for line-of-business-y, ecommerce-y web applications (although it works quite well for them).

Screen capture of the game: "Click here to play Pirates Love Daisies"

Download Internet Explorer 9 now!

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

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Comic Sans Criminal

by Joey deVilla on December 22, 2010

You're a Comic Sans Criminal but we're here to help you

Comic Sans is probably one of the most misused fonts out there. Originally intended for the comic book-style speech bubbles for “Clippy” and other assistants in Microsoft Office, it got used first for “fun”, “childlike” documents and signs, and then found its way into far less appropriate venues, including those shown in the photos below:

Defibrillator and sexual assault notice using Comic Sans

The Comic Sans Criminal site does a great job telling the story of Comic Sans, where people went terribly, terribly wrong with it, what the appropriate uses for Comic Sans are, and it ends with the Comic Sans Pledge:

The Comic Sans Pledge: "I, _____, understand that my choice of font has the power to subconsciously and incorrectly set the tone for a piece of printed material, and as a result promise to seriously consider whether Comic Sans is an appropriate font choice before using it in any printed work in the future. Signed, ____"

Check out Comic Sans Criminal! It’s a beautifully-designed site that makes use of some good HTML5 tricks to turn it into an entertaining and gorgeous slideshow, and if it stops you from using Comic Sans inappropriately (or even better, altogether), so much the better!

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

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New Book: Windows Phone 7 Game Development

by Joey deVilla on December 22, 2010

Cover of "Windows Phone 7 Game Development"

This book’s so new that I’m not sure the dead-tree version is available yet: it’s Windows Phone 7 Game Development, published by Apress and written by Adam Dawes. I’ve just purchased the ebook version (which you can download right away for USD$34.99), so I’ve only had a chance to do a quick skim.

According to Apress’ site, here’s what you’ll learn from Windows Phone 7 Game Development:

  • How to get started with Windows Phone 7 development, from setting up the IDE to debugging techniques.
  • Develop using the free or full versions of Visual Studio 2010.
  • Master high performance 2D and 3D graphics using the XNA development environment.
  • Build 2D games using Silverlight and also learn how to publish them to the web.
  • Find out the best ways to control your games, including using touch screens, keyboards and accelerometers.
  • Produce high quality music and sound effects from your games.
  • Masses of example code and working projects, including two example games, "Cosmic Rocks" and "Diamond Lines."
  • All you need to release your games to the world for fun or to sell.

It looks like a worthy partner to Beginning Windows Phone 7 Development.

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

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lost in the cloudCreative Commons photo by Christopher Sessums. Click to see the original.

There’s no time like holiday downtime to go noodle with technologies you’ve been meaning to try out. Sometimes it’s nice to have a break from all the parties, family gatherings and the madness and crowds of Boxing-Day-and-beyond shopping. At the same time, I’m not a fan of completely vegging out in front of the TV. My own downtime plans – asides from catching up on some reading (I’m currently digging the the Oishinbo series of cooking manga) and playing the new Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty – include doing some noodling with Azure.

On the whole, Azure is pretty simple to use. As far as coding is concerned, there really aren’t too many differences between having your application run on Azure and having it run on a regular server. Naturally, setup and deployment are a little different, and the Azure team have worked hard on making it as simple as possible, and the latest Azure portal UI is the result. Still, it’s a new technology and new turf for a lot of people, and it’s easy to get lost.

If you’re working with Azure and find yourself “lost in the cloud”, we can help! Are you stuck at some point in the deployment process? Having trouble setting up a SQL Azure database? Don’t know where to start? We can help – email us at cdnazure@microsoft.com and we’ll help you get up and running!

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

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beginning windows phone 7 development

I’ve been flipping through Apress’ new book, Beginning Windows Phone 7 Development, and I’ve been impressed so far. As with most books on developing for any given platform, the first couple of chapters are introductory and have the mandatory “Get the Tools” and “Let’s Write a Hello World Program” sections, but the book veers from the standard trajectory in chapter 3 by diving right into the use of the cloud for data storage for your app.

That’s where we get into the serious stuff: the MVVM design pattern, setting up a SQL Azure account and database, creating a cloud service to access that cloud database, building a WCF service to access the data, and then building a Windows Phone app – a notepad application – that accesses that database. By the end of the chapter – and remember, this is chapter three and less than a hundred pages in – you’ve got a cloud-enabled phone app that you can use as the basis for your own. That’s no small feat, and it’s a testament to the tools and technologies available to Windows Phone 7 developers.

Update (Friday, Dec. 17, 2010): Author Henry Lee let us know in the comments that there’s an update to chapter 3 to cover recent changes to Azure’s UI.

I’m still working my way through Beginning Windows Phone 7 Development, but from what I’ve seen so far and from casual scans ahead, I would recommend it for the developer who’s comfortable with C# and .NET and is ready to pick up a lot of new things quickly.

If you’d like to get this book as quickly as possible, I’d recommend the ebook version. It’s also the cheapest, at USD$27.99. Better still, if you buy before midnight of December 31st, you can save 25% by using the promotional code APRESSHOLIDAY2010, knocking the price down to a mere USD$21 (which as of this writing, is a Rush-inspired CDN$21.12).

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

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