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Windows Phone 7 Series: Now That’s More Like It!

by Joey deVilla on February 15, 2010

Windows Phone 7 Series generic phone

A New Windows for the Phone

Ever since joining The Empire, I’ve been saying that Windows Mobile needs to go back to the drawing board. While there was good technology lying in its innards – mobile versions of the .NET framework, SQL Server and Office – treating the mobile form factor as “the desktop, but much, much smaller”, was the wrong approach. In the meantime, the Esteemed Competition were doing the right thing: designing their phones’ OS features and interface from the ground up rather than attempting to force-fit the desktop UI into a pocket UI.

Today at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Microsoft previewed the latest in a series of steps forward – consider Xbox to Xbox 360, Windows Vista to Windows 7, Live Search to Bing – there’s now Windows Phone 7 Series.

(The name’s a bit long. Whoever does the naming at Microsoft corporate HQ must get paid by the syllable.)

A Quick Look at Windows Phone’s Experience

A good starting point is this video, which covers Windows Phone’s features in three minutes, thirty seconds:

You can take an interactive tour of the UI at the Windows Phone 7 Series site:

Screenshot of the Windows Phone 7 Series site's home page

A Closer Look at the Windows Phone Experience

Over at Channel 9, Laura Foy has posted her interview with Joe Belfiore, VP Windows Phone 7 Program Management, who gave her a walkthrough of the goodies in Windows Phone (the video is 22 minutes, 18 seconds):

Get Microsoft Silverlight

Some quick notes from the video:

  • There are three mandatory hardware buttons, which are context-sensitive:
    • Back
    • Windows (the “Start” button)
    • Search
  • The screen is a capacitive touch-screen, capable of supporting multi-touch
  • The Start menu is built up of tiles: little block representing the information and features that you care most about
    • You can add your own custom tiles; Joe shows a “me” tile linked to his Facebook profile
  • A browser with:
    • Snappy performance
    • Support for multitouch actions such as pinch zoom, double-tap to zoom and finger drag
    • Very readable text, that to sub-pixel positioning in HTML
    • Phone number recognition in HTML documents; touch them to dial them
    • Street address recognition in HTML documents; touch them to get a map
    • Multiple tabs
  • The “People Hub”
    • Aggregates Exchange, Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo! Mail and other mail contacts
    • Provides a live feed of your contacts
  • Context-sensitive search:
    • Press the “Search” button while in the People Hub, and you search your people list
    • Press the “Search” button while in the Start menu, and it runs a web search
      • Based on your query, it knows whether to give you a web search result or a local search result
      • In the demo, Joe does a search for pizza and gets a map and results for pizzerias near him, and a quick pan over to adjacent pages yield directions and reviews
      • A tap on “nearby” yield the locations of useful things like parking, ATMs and so on near the selected pizzeria
      • In another demo search, Joe does a search for “Avatar” and it returns a list of nearby theatres and times for the movie Avatar; a quick pan to an adjacent page yields the results for local business and places with “Avatar” in the name
  • Email:
    • Easy pivoting between unread, flagged and urgent emails
    • A caching system prevents you from seeing the dreaded “loading” screen
    • Press “Search” within email and you perform a search of your email messages, by subject, text and so on
  • Rotation: you can operate the phone in “portrait” or “landscape” mode
  • Calendar:
    • Support for both work and personal calendars
  • ActiveSync works in the background and keeps the phone synced with email, contacts and calendar
  • User-customizable UI colour schemes
  • The “Pictures Hub”
    • Gallery: Lets you browse all the pictures on your phone
    • Mosaic: Recent and favourite pictures
    • What’s New: New photos from your social networks
    • Camera roll: A folder for photos taken with your phone
    • Support for photo albums from Facebook and Windows Live, which you browse as if they lived right on your phone
  • Music and Video
    • History: Most recently played music and videos
    • New: New music and videos added since the last sync
    • Zune HD-style marketplace searching and support for Zune subscriptions with unlimited music plays
  • The “Me” tile
    • Lets you update your status on places like Facebook
    • Nice little typing features like auto-spelling-correction and a special soft keyboard for emoticons
  • The UI concept: Windows Phone is task-centric, not app-centric, with a hub associated with each: people, photos, media
  • There’s also a games hub, which ties into Xbox Live
  • Third-party applications and games? Wait…

Wait a Minute…What About Third-Party Apps and Games?

"MIX10: The Next Web Now" logo buttonCan you wait a month?

Here’s the deal: the announcement at Mobile World Congress was about showing what Windows Phone can do. As for what’s possible on the developer front, it’ll all be announced at the MIX10 Conference, which takes place from March 15th through 17th in Las Vegas.

There will be a dozen sessions at MIX10 for Windows Phone, and they promise to be quite interesting. I’ll be at MIX10, and will blog what I learn from these sessions when they take place.

You can save $200 off the price of MIX10 registration if you register before February 21st, so if you want to get in on the ground floor with Windows Phone and save some money, register now!

What the Tech Press is Saying

Pretty good stuff, actually. Rather than bury you with links to a zillion blog entries filed from Mobile World Congress, I thought I’d pick two of the big tech blogs, Gizmodo and Engadget:

Here’s what Gizmodo has to say about the new Windows Phone:

It’s different. The face of Windows Phone 7 is not a rectangular grid of thumbnail-sized glossy-looking icons, arranged in a pattern of 4×4 or so, like basically every other phone. No, instead, an oversized set of bright, superflat squares fill the screen. The pop of the primary colors and exaggerated flatness produces a kind of cutting-edge crispness that feels both incredibly modern and playful. Text is big, and beautiful. The result is a feat no phone has performed before: Making the iPhone’s interface feel staid.

If you want to know what it feels like, the Zune HD provides a taste: Interface elements that run off the screen; beautiful, oversized text and graphics; flipping, panning, scrolling, zooming from screen to screen; broken hearts. Some people might think it’s gratuitous, but I think it feels natural and just…fun. There’s an incredible sense of joie de vivre that’s just not in any other phone. It makes you wish that this was aesthetic direction all of Microsoft was going in.

Here are Engadget’s impressions, after having some hands-on time with Windows Phone:

The design and layout of 7 Series’ UI (internally called Metro) is really quite original, utilizing what one of the designers (Albert Shum, formerly of Nike) calls an "authentically digital" and "chromeless" experience. What does that mean? Well we can tell you what it doesn’t mean — no shaded icons, no faux 3D or drop shadows, no busy backgrounds (no backgrounds at all), and very little visual flair besides clean typography and transition animations. The whole look is strangely reminiscent of a terminal display (maybe Microsoft is recalling its DOS roots here) — almost Tron-like in its primary color simplicity. To us, it’s rather exciting. This OS looks nothing like anything else on the market, and we think that’s to its advantage. Admittedly, we could stand for a little more information available within single views, and we have yet to see how the phone will handle things like notifications, but the design of the interface is definitely in a class of its own.

(In another article, Engadget simply summed it up with “Microsoft is playing to win”.)

Watch this Space!

"Counting Down to Seven" badgeWe’ll have more announcements about Windows Phone over the next few weeks, so keep an eye on this blog!

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

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Finding Domains on a Given IP Address with Bing

by Joey deVilla on August 18, 2009

Bing logoHere’s a cute trick: Bing’s ip: operator lets you find out which domains are on a given IP address.

For example, let’s consider the IP address of the Coffee and Code blog, whose URL is coffeeandcode.org. A quick check using a utility like whois or host2ip or reveals that its IP address is 207.58.137.226. Take that IP address and type it into Bing preceded by the ip: operator like so:

"ip:207.58.137.226" typed into a Bing search textbox

…and Bing will return a list of domains that live at that given IP address. In this particular case, you’ll find a couple of my own domains: my personal blog’s domain, joeydevilla.com, as well as this blog’s domain, globalnerdy.com.

Apparently it’s a feature that’s been around since the MSN/Live.com search days, but it’s a little-known one, so I thought I’d mention it here.

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

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LearnHub: Powered by Rails, Searches with Bing

by Joey deVilla on June 29, 2009

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

Introducing LearnHub

learnhub_home_pageLearnHub’s home page.

If you’re a student applying to colleges and universities and are looking for help with the process, you should try LearnHub. Based in Toronto, LearnHub is a social learning network that helps students to prepare for standardized tests, assists with finding places to study abroad and provides career counseling. LearnHub’s site has hundreds of thousands of pages of free content, including the world’s largest bank of questions that appear in the GMAT and SAT standardized tests. The site has a large following among students worldwide, particularly in India, and has partnerships with 25 universities to recruit domestic and international students.

learnhub

With those hundreds of thousands of pages, LearnHub needed to provide a way for students to find what they’re looking for. They provide a search function, and it’s powered by Bing.

The people at LearnHub are part of that sector of Toronto tech that’s into Ruby on Rails, open source and founding startups. Founders John Philip Green and Malgosia Green are a husband-and-wife team who are known for building web applications for education and have been active members of Toronto’s tightly-knit open source tech community since the earliest DemoCamps. John caught Rails fever after trying it out and decided to rewrite a major application using it. The core development team of Wesley Moxam, Carsten Nielsen and Libin Pan are fixtures of the local Toronto’s on Rails scene; a gathering of local Rubyists doesn’t feel complete without them.

So what are they doing, using Bing?

Site-Wide Search

learnhub_dev_management_teamThe main room at LearnHub’s offices. Management are to the left, developers to the right.

In the beginning, they went with their first instinct, which was to use Google. “We launched in March 2008,” said co-founder John Philip Green, “and we needed to provide site-wide search, so we went with Google. We signed up, and for a few hundred bucks a year, we got a search function that covered about 5,000 pages. It seemed like a pretty big number, and we thought that would be more than enough to cover our site.”

They soon found that the results weren’t what they expected. “We weren’t getting good results. We’d use our site-wide search to search for something that we knew was in our site, and it wouldn’t show up in the results.” The same search would work just fine if you did it from Google.com, but not from their Google-powered search function. “The results just weren’t relevant, and we also had a limited number of queries,” John said.

learnhub_management_dev_teamThe main room at LearnHub’s offices. That’s management in the foreground, developers in the back.

LearnHub’s page count grew quickly and beyond the 5,000 pages covered by their arrangement with Google. “Going up to a bigger package was expensive;” John said, “it would have cost a couple thousand for 50,000 pages, and we were already at hundreds of thousands.”

“We could’ve gotten the functionality for free, but that’s only an option when you show ads in the search results, and the ads that showed up were for our competitors.”

learnhub_sales_teamLearnHub’s sales team.

There was another problem: Google’s site search returned its results as a web page. In order to make LearnHub’s site-wide search’s results page have the same look and feel as the rest of the site, they had to stick the Google results in an iframe. “And even then, what was inside the iframe didn’t match the rest of the page,” added John.

They started looking at other options for implementing LearnHub’s site-wide search, including running their own spider. “We really didn’t want to do that,” said programmer Wesley Moxam.

Enter Bing

wes_moxamLearnHub developer Wesley Moxam.

While looking around at search options, Wesley found the Live Search API, which is now known as the Bing API. “It was free, well-designed and spits out JSON,” he said. “Google requires a JavaScript interface or SOAP, and SOAP libraries in Ruby are painful.”

“It took a day to implement and get it up and running,” said Wesley, “The entire switch-over project happened over three days, with us working on it on and off, while we were doing other tasks. Best of all, we get consistent results – the results from the API are the same results you’d get if you just used the Bing site.”

“Bing’s API is simple and straightforward. You call it, you get the results, you take those results and use them how you like,” he continued. “It’s good. It’s hard to explain good software; good software is inherently simple.”

Here’s a screenshot of a LearnHub search results page for the search term “accordion” – and yes, the word appears on a handful of Learnhub pages!

LearnHub search results page for the search term "accordion" LearnHub’s search results page for the term “accordion”.

LearnHub have benefited from using Bing to power their site-wide search, and they’ve decided to share the wealth. Wesley’s working on refactoring the Ruby library he wrote to act as a wrapper for the Bing API and open source it for anyone to use. It should be available later this summer. He’ll announce it when it’s released, and I’ll announce it here.

The Bing API

Bing logo

It’s easy to harness the power of Bing in your applications, whether for desktop, web or mobile.

The first step is to get an AppID, which is a string that uniquely identifies you as a registered Bing application developer. Go to the Bing Developer Center, sign in with your Windows Live ID (which you can get for free) and follow the link to created a new AppID. You’ll be asked to supply some very basic information about your application and to review the Bing API’s Terms of Use. If you provide the information and agree to the Terms of Use (which I summarize in plain English below), you’ll get an AppID.

Once you have an AppID, you can start experimenting right away with the Bing API. All you need to do is start typing URLs with the format below into your browser’s address bar:

http://api.search.live.net/xml.aspx?AppID=<AppID>&query=<SearchTerms>&sources=<SourceTypes>

where:

  • <AppID> is the AppID assigned to you
  • <SearchTerms> are your urlencoded search terms
  • <SourceTypes> specifies the type(s) of search results you want. The different sourcetypes are explained in the table below:
SourceType Description Example Search Terms
Web Searches for web content accordion – returns web pages containing the term “accordion”
Image Searches for images on the web accordion – returns images of accordions
News Searches news stories accordion – returns news articles about accordions
InstantAnswer Searches Encarta online what is an accordion – returns the definition of “accordion”

convert 1.6 kilometres to miles – returns “0.9941939 miles”

sin(30 degrees) – returns “0.5”

Spell Searches Encarta Dictionary for spelling suggestions accordian – returns “accordion” 
Phonebook Searches phonebook entries accordions in Toronto – returns location results for “accordions in Toronto”
RelatedSearch Returns query strings most similar to yours accordion – returns results like “{piano accordion; button accordion; accordion store}”
Ad Returns advertisements to incorporate with results (use this to make money with you Bing-powered application) accordion – returns ads relevant to the keyword “accordion”

 

The default format for results is XML, and that’s the format you get when typing in API calls in your browser. You can also have the results returned as JSON or SOAP if you prefer.

You can find out more about the Bing API in the Bing API section of MSDN.

Bing’s Terms of Use, Explained as Simply as Possible

Here’s a quick explanation of Bing’s Terms of Use for those of us without a law degree. It’s adapted from the Bing documentation and provides a quick summary of what application developers using the Bing API must do and cannot do (besides the obvious "I promise not to use the API to plan a terrorist attack, run a drug smuggling ring or help the band Nickelback take forceful despotic rule of planet Earth").

What you must do:

  • You must display all the results you request. No filtering!
  • You must display your results in the context of a user-facing application or website.
  • You must display attribution to Bing in a manner compliant with our branding rules. Currently, you may determine the specific manner in which you display attribution. A link to http://www.live.com with the query echo is a suggested example.
  • You must restrict your usage to less than 7 queries per second per IP address. You may be permitted to exceed this limit under some conditions, but this must be approved through discussion with the folks at api_tou@microsoft.com.
  • If you interleave data from any source other than the API with data from the API, you must clearly

    differentiate the respective sources. (Yes, you can interleave Bing results with other data!)

What you cannot do:

  • You cannot use API results for search engine optimization (SEO). In particular, using the API for rank checks is explicitly prohibited.
  • You cannot display advertisements in positions other than the mainline and sidebar.
  • You cannot change the order of the results the API returns from a SourceType other than Web. (In other words, you can re-order results from standard searches for web pages!)

Bing Your Apps!

From there, the sky’s the limit. The Bing API is very straightforward and easy to use, it costs nothing to use it, and as someone who’s been using Bing as his default search engine since its beta period, the results it provides are great. Go forth and Bing your apps!

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paris_hilton_france_gauge

I have a soft spot for tech-meets-art projects, like this one by Tim Schwartz, titled Paris – Physical. The meter is driven by search results for the phrases “Paris Hilton” and “Paris France” and displays an “average result” (their words, not mine) by using an electrical gauge.

Here’s a look at the innards of the project:

Interior of the "Paris-Physical" project

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I would’ve thought that they ignore everything after the first page, but ReputationDefender says that according to a Cornell University Study [PDF], most Google users ignore everything after the first three results.

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