Articles from September 2007

Microsoft Seeking XPS Standardization: What's in XPS?

By Michael Flanakin @ 10:10 AM :: 1909 Views :: Microsoft, Open Source/Standards :: Digg it!

So, what is the difference between PDF and XPS? I know the storage format of XPS is based on XML and ZIP technology, which makes the format head-over-heels more "open" than PDF as well as more approachable for us geeks who like to hack documents. For that reason alone, I'm  excited about XPS. But that provides nothing for end users, so the question remains... Why do we need a new format? Mobile-ready link

One thing PDF has today that XPS doesn't is some dynamic capabilities. Of course, this is just a matter of time. Being based on WPF opens XPS to a world of possibilities. On the other hand, I've seen talk about XPS being "safe" because it doesn't contain scripts or macros. I hope this isn't the position Microsoft is taking, but you never know. Either way, I think this is something that has to be added to truly compete with PDF. As-is, you can create forms with XPS, for instance, but have no way to fill them out electronically. Actually, I can see how one might achieve this somewhat easily. Hmmm... There's definitely an opportunity here.

Versioning is another aspect that's been quietly touted. Apparently, Adobe frequently introduces breaking changes into new releases. These have historically broken both software and hardware built to the older spec. I'm not sure how they've gotten away with this for so long, but apparently XPS has an answer to the problem. This is huge for  hardware and software vendors.

The last difference I'm aware of is with images. PDFs embed images in a proprietary, lossy format. XPS includes images as they are, in all their high-def glory. Oh yeah, did I mention high-def? As I understand it, XPS has support for HD Photo and just provides all-around better image quality. I know I've noticed this with a few presentations I've saved in both formats.

In my opinion, XPS seems like a great power user upgrade and a decent end user upgrade; but is it really worth the effort Microsoft has ut into it? Doubtful... At least not at this time. I'll be more excited to see v2, which is typically where Microsoft products start to shine.

Silverlight vs. .NET 3.0 vs. Flash/Flex

By Michael Flanakin @ 11:33 AM :: 1805 Views :: .NET, Development, User Experience :: Digg it!
I just came across Loke Uei Tan's Mobile-ready link Syndicated feed comparison of Silverlight, .NET 3.0, and Flash/Flex Mobile-ready link. I don't think .NET 3.0 or, more specifically, WPF should be included in this comparison, but whatever. I guess it does come into play if you're truly looking at a user experience decision, as opposed to a rich web interface decision. Then again, you can use WPF in the web, but that's Windows only, so I usually poo-poo that idea. But, I digress... I also noticed 3d capabilities weren't mentioned. I know WPF does support 3d and Silverlight doesn't, but I don't know about Flash/Flex. If I had to guess, I'd say it doesn't; otherwise, I imagine it would be a highly touted feature. Of course, this isn't a huge deal if you're willing to do the math yourself. Having the feature is more about easing development. I'm curious what else was missed, but this is at least a good place to start. I'm surprised to see Flex missing so much, but knowing Adobe, I probably shouldn't be. Either way, I don't see Flex doing much for the Flash market Mobile-ready link. Adobe needed to bring Flash to applications, but that just never happened on a large scale. With integration into .NET, Silverlight will be an obvious answer for most developers.

Open XML

By Michael Flanakin @ 2:10 PM :: 3037 Views :: Microsoft, Open Source/Standards :: Digg it!

Most probably know the outcome of the ballot Mobile-ready link to fast-track the Open XML Mobile-ready link standard thru ISO approval: it was denied. That isn't the end of it, tho. There are some important facts that should be pointed out. First off, I should explain how the voting process works. To get approved, the ballot must be approved by 2/3 "P members" and 3/4 all voting members. The Open XML ballot fell short of this on both accounts, achieving 53% P member votes and 74% all-up. The next is for the measure to go to the ballot resolution meeting in February 2008, where the members will have an opportunity to change their votes. In order to pass, 5 P members must change their vote from disapproved to approved or all 9 non-voting P members plus 2 disapprovers must all change their votes to approve it. Note that I may be 1 off on these numbers, depending on whether they round up or down in their ballots. The real challenge is meeting the 2/3 vote. The 3/4 vote is all but in-the-bag, needing 1 converter or 3 new voters.

As far as I'm concerned, achieving a 74% vote in favor of Open XML is tremendous; if for no other reason than, it's 74%!! I guess I was expecting a 2/3 vote to pass. Not sure why "P members" are so special, but I'm guessing some green-backs come into play, as they always do in these cases. I am hopeful of the future, tho. From what I saw, there were some good comments coming from both sides. The #1 being the dependence upon proprietary, legacy Microsoft file formats. I honestly didn't know this was included in the spec, but would have to say they should be removed. I feel like removing these would go a long way to making the spec feel like a community standard. Heck, I'd go as far as transferring key patents to ISO to show my interest and desire for full openness. Then again, I don't know what all would be involved with this or its implications. I'm merely looking at this from an objective standpoint. A showing of good faith would mean a lot to the opposition.

Another thing I'd do is officially change the name of the standard to Open XML, removing the "Office" moniker. I'm not sure where this came from, but I've always hated it. The name gives this assuming ownership by Microsoft, care of "Microsoft Office." This isn't what Open XML is about, so let's just remove the point of confusion.

We'll have to wait and see how things go, tho. There were comments about interop with ODF, but I don't think doc compat is necessarily something that should belong in a spec. That might depend on how intrusive it is, tho. As long as extensibility is built in, explicit compat shouldn't be necessary. Thanks to Sun's doing, ODF falls short on both of these counts Mobile-ready link, which is the main reason Open XML exists. Unfortunately, Microsoft's desire for competitiveness and consumer choice isn't shared. I've said it before and I'll say it again, the tables have turned: Microsoft wants choice Mobile-ready link, while historic open source supporters, like IBM and Sun, are pushing against the standard for commercial gain Mobile-ready link. In the long run, I don't think it'll matter. This whole ballot is about speeding up the standards process. Win or lose, the standard will ultimately go thru the entire process. The advantage to fast tracking is for consumers.

Attack of the Surface Wanna-Bes

By Michael Flanakin @ 8:47 AM :: 2966 Views :: Technology, Microsoft :: Digg it!

I don't think Microsoft ever truly got the respect it deserved for Surface Mobile-ready link. And now, it seems we have ourselves some competition. We all know what Microsoft is good at: competition. Of course, I can't mention Surface without mentioning the parody. As much as I want to hate it, it was pretty funny. Back to the topic at hand, I can't say I'm surprised to see competition starting to heat up. First on the scene was Rosie by Savant. Of course, taking a look at what Savant does, touchscreen devices, a Surface copycat was halfway done. Then again, they're a long way from meeting the capabilities Surface has. The biggest point of failure I see is that Rosie is just a big touchscreen computer. That's it. Surface is more than that. Specifically, Surface is all about integrating with devices placed on the table. As merely a touchscreen, Rosie doesn't have this. Rosie also seems to lack multi-touch capabilities, as far as I can tell. All this for a hefty $35,000 price tag, notably more than 3 times more than Surface's estimated price. Rosie's not the only other game in town, tho.

Savant's Rosie

The other announcement comes from what is perhaps the most unlikely source, Northrup Grumman Mobile-ready link, a defense contractor. Then again, you may not be too stunned when you get to the bottom of its purpose. TouchTable Mobile-ready link has been around for quite a while. After the announcement of Surface, I believe Northrup Grumman is simply looking to monetize on their investment in a new market. The question of how this compares to Surface comes up. I don't have a lot of info on TouchTable, but from what I can tell, this isn't quite the experience people are probably wanting. If you look closely, you'll see the image is projected from above -- look at the man's arm. I'm sorry, but I'm not about to get a "table" I have to install an overhead projector for. Of course, what do you expect from a defense contractor?

Northrup Grumman's TouchTable

All-in-all, I don't see either of these to be much competition, but it will be nice to see more out there. Microsoft isn't planning on releasing Surface to the consumer market initially, but plans have changed since the initial announcement. Because of the immense amount of interest -- I know I've seen requests upon requests pouring in on a daily basis -- Microsoft has decided to speed up the release schedule. I don't know any exact dates, but I'm expecting people to see them in a few hot spots, like casinos, in early 2008. My hopes are to see a cheaper consumer release by the end of 2008. That almost seems undoable, tho. I guess only time will tell... as usual.

LSU Creeping Up on USC

By Michael Flanakin @ 11:17 AM :: 1843 Views :: LSU :: Digg it!
While only game 2 of the season, LSU is definitely working on proving their worth. 9th-ranked Virginia Tech met 2nd-ranked LSU for what was acclaimed as the most anticipated non-conference game of the season. Both teams have top-rated defenses, so many were expecting a long, back-and-forth game without much action on the scoreboard. That's not quite what happened, tho. The surprising thing to most was the comeuppance of Matt Flynn, the two-year 2nd-string quarterback. All I can say is that I've been waiting for this day. JaMarcus Russell has kept a strong hold on the position, but I've always thought Flynn was the better of the two. Maybe it's just me. The thing Flynn needed to meet his full potential was more game time. Oh well. We'll have to see how he grows this season. Maybe the bigger question might be about this year's 2nd-stringer, Ryan Perrilloux. There was some talk about him last year, but he didn't see much play. I think this year will be different; especially with two touchdowns against such a highly rated defense. Given this year to perfect his skills in a more competitive environment, next year will be an exciting one. Let's just get thru this year, first. The next three games are all gimme's, but the fourth is likely to be LSU's toughest conference game of the season, which is against Florida. I'm just hoping LSU doesn't get too cocky after a strong coming-out.

Latest iPod/iPhone News

By Michael Flanakin @ 5:37 PM :: 1683 Views :: Technology :: Digg it!

I just felt the need to give my unsolicited opinions on the whole iPhone pricing fiasco. When I first saw it, I laughed. Barely 2 months after the iPhone is released for a whopping $600, Apple announced a price drop, bringing it down to $400. Not even Sony caved that quickly with the PlayStation 3 Mobile-ready link! I find it strange that Apple would drop the price so dramatically for an infant product that's been hyped so much. Supposedly, the newly announced iPods have nothing to do with the drop, but I doubt that. I haven't seen the prices on the iPod Touch, which is the big "iPhone competitor," but I imagine it'll be between $200 and $300. Of course, this just makes dropping the price of the iPhone make so much less sense. Typically, you drop the price of your products when you either (a) aren't selling as much as you'd like or (b) are releasing something "bigger and better" and you want people to buy the old and busted goods before the new hotness comes out. While the iPhone comes with more features, I see the iPod Touch being a better seller. This was somewhat confirmed by a recent poll on Facebook. Besides, it's only a matter of time before the iPod Touch is hacked to provide phone service over the web using services like Skype. I'd expect to see that happen in a month or two. This should get AT&T's panties in a bunch.

Speaking of panties in a bunch, we can't forget the consumers. All those people who flushed $200 down the drain for early access to their iPhone are now raging against the machine Mobile-ready link, as it were. I can't say I blame them. This just seems to be a stupid move for Apple. We can only speculate as to the reasons they might make such a move that they must have expected to get burned on. As a matter of fact, their stock has already seen a hit. To try and lessen the impact on consumer satisfaction, Jobs did announce that Apple would be providing a $100 store credit to those who've already purchased an iPhone. Of course, this won't make everyone happy, but I'm sure they're at least glad to be getting something. Apple stock-holders, on the other hand, must not be too terribly happy about it, considering this will only drop stock even more.

Of course, in a few months, this will all be over with and we'll have moved on to the next headline. I just think it's funny that a company known for a "great consumer experience" can make such bonehead decisions. I just have to wonder what's on the horizon that nobody knows about.

Silverlight on Linux

By Michael Flanakin @ 10:39 AM :: 1768 Views :: .NET, Development, Microsoft, Open Source/Standards, Tools/Utilities :: Digg it!
In a somewhat interesting turn of events, Microsoft has officially launched Silverlight 1.0 with support for Linux. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I expected Linux to be left out forever, but I didn't expect it this soon. Good stuff! What I really thought was newsworthy about this, tho, wasn't that it happened, but that it happened in collaboration with Novell Mobile-ready link. Not sure if this has anything with the much-debated Microsoft-Novell deal, but I kind of doubt it. I get the impression this is more about Microsoft wanting to provide Linux support and the Mono team already having an implementation Mobile-ready link. I do wonder how long this collaboration will hold, tho. Not because of either party's interest in that collaboration, but because of the .NET support in Silverlight 1.1. If the collaboration would continue, I can see this growing and possibly even expanding into cross-platform .NET, the exact Mono was created. This wouldn't be the first time Microsoft stepped on its partners. Of course, Miguel de Icaza Mobile-ready link Syndicated feed has mentioned that he'd be happy to see Microsoft pick up .NET on Linux. I don't know how this would go over in the community, tho. Those on the Windows side looking for cross-platform solutions would love it, but those on the Linux side might see it as an anti-competitive strategy. Of course, those who do think that will most likely be the zealots who think anything coming out of Redmond is pure, unadulterated evil. Unfortunately, that would never change.

MasterPages in SharePoint

By Michael Flanakin @ 2:29 PM :: 1865 Views :: .NET, Tools/Utilities :: Digg it!

Have you ever created or modified a master page in SharePoint? Unfortunately, I can say that I have. It's a very painful process. I consider myself fairly decent at creating web user interfaces, too. I've created a number of DotNetNuke (DNN) skins and wouldn't blink twice at doing another, but SharePoint is a much different topic. I want to like SharePoint so much, but it's just not there, yet. When I compare SharePoint and DNN, I see how much more capability and professionalism lies in the SharePoint platform; but the developer experience DNN provides can't be avoided.

Perhaps the most apparent of these shortcomings in SharePoint is the fact that web parts must be created in .NET code, without HTML. There are a few ways around this and I've been wanting to write a post on them for a few months. Maybe I'll finally get to that this week or next. The other major deficit I have a problem with, if you couldn't guess, is the effort that goes into customizing the user interface. DNN comes with a number of well-defined CSS styles that are pretty much standard. SharePoint, on the other hand, makes it hard to discern what styles are and aren't required. Maybe they all are. As if that weren't enough, SharePoint comes with the typical table-based layout Microsoft and so many other old school web designers hackers have become known for. When trying to create a "clean" layout, this becomes very hard because the Microsoft and ASP.NET controls pollute the waters so much.

I'm hoping things get easier with time, but I'm not holding my breath. Well, not for this release, anyway. I will definitely be pushing for changes in these two areas in the future. I know I'm not the only one, so hopefully there will be strength in numbers. For now, I'm thinking about looking into the CSS control adapters Mobile-ready link. Of course, I'll still have to look at the SharePoint custom controls, which I probably won't bother creating adapters for. This is the problem we always run into. We have a problem we want to fix, but don't have the time to dedicate to see it thru to a well-deserved solution everyone could benefit from.