Category: "Technology"

Windows Phone 7, the apps are right here

PC Mag coughed up an excuse of an article today, written by Dan Costa and titled "Windows Phone 7: Where Are the Apps?" it essentially argues that Windows Phone 7 has very few applications, or none if you read it by title alone.

We already had some information stating it'll have over 2000 applications on launch. Microsoft have stated the development tools have had hundreds of thousands of downloads, and that it will have over 50 Xbox Live-enabled games on launch, that isn't including non-Xbox Live games.

What's Dan's source of this information? The Windows Phone website, where he can only find information about seven applications "I could only find seven applications listed on the site: Twitter, eBay, IMDb, and four games". Of course by the same logic, the iPhone only has dozens of applications as that's all I can find on Apple's website.

Of course if he bothered to look at where you actually download applications from, the Zune Marketplace he would have seen hundreds up for download already. That's up from a dozen or so earlier this week. Not bad for a platform which isn't even released.

Microsoft might be tempted to think it doesn't need third party developers. That would be a huge mistake.

I don't even know where to start with that one. What planet does this guy live on? Seriously? This is Microsoft if there's one thing they get is how important 3rd party developers are, heck that's what the whole PC ecosystem was built upon.

It isn't hard to do a little work and find out where all the apps are. But Dan and PC Mag are obviously more interested in spreading FUD, hoping everyone who reads it by headline alone will assume Windows Phone doesn't support 3rd party applications.

More Photosynths from the Lake District

As promised a few weeks back here's the last two decent Photosynths from my recent excursion to the Lake District.

First up, a nice view of Hawkshead and the surrounding landscape from the Colthouse Heights. Make sure to check out the highlights on this synth as I spent a fair bit of time working out what all the areas of interest were:

Lastly here's the synth we did while visiting Hawkshead, we actually wound up there twice, hey it happens to have a nice bread factory. This is the view looking east from Hawkshead church, yup that's the church shown in the above synth, this synth was taken on the wall facing us from that view. I haven't done any highlights for this synth yet but will add some when I get around to it. The Colthouse Heights and Latterbarrow are easy to spot:

For those interested here's all the Photosynths placed on a map which really adds some context, you can kind of get an idea of the path we took on one of our little treks.

Clearing up some confusion over Internet Explorer 9

Crawling across the internets as I have a tendency to do has as usual brought plenty of ignorant comments to my attention. Today about Internet Explorer 9. It always amazes me how willing people are to spout off about something they know nothing or little about. So let's tackle some of them.

I am guessing this is on a PC that has been specially optimised by Microsoft to run its browser content as fast as possible by breaking from web standards?
Another situation where things can already be done on all other browsers perfectly well, but now web developers will be forced to tailor their sites specifically to cater for more Internet Explorer specific quirks.

And you're guessing wrong. Completely wrong. Internet Explorer 9 is just faster. Orders of magnitude faster on graphically intensive websites. How? Because it uses DirectX and the GPU to help out.

Haven't had a chance to look if this uses open web standards but, if it doesn't, it's a return to the good old days of IE6, which mucked around with what everyone else was trying to do on the web and ended with having to hack sites to work in MS browsers.

This is the sort of line trotted out by the Firefox crowd. Web standards as if there is only one gold plated standard that can never change, and to which a browser is either completely compliant or not. Internet Explorer 6 did support web standards that were finished when it was released. Such as HTML4 and CSS1. Internet Explorer was the first browser to fully support CSS1.

The standards that most of the Firefox guys refer to is CSS2.1. Between the releases of IE6 and 7. CSS2 was essentially canned because IE, Netscape, Mozilla and Opera rendered everything so inconsistently with each other.

CSS2.1 was developed to try and sort these problems out but didn't reach candidate recommendation status until 2004, and was quickly moved back to draft to work out a slew of problems with it. It only re-emerged as recommended back in 2007.

So it wasn't that Internet Explorer 6 didn't support standards - it did. It just didn't support CSS2.1, well that's no surprise since CSS2.1 was finalised 6 years after it was released. But by around 2005 the web developer crowd decided they all wanted to use CSS, even for things its really bad at such as controlling layout.

Internet Explorer 7 hit all the main CSS2.1 features that were commonly being used, and Internet Explorer 8 pretty much finished up CSS2.1 support. But even to this day, no browser on the planet supports every feature of CSS2.1, heck they don't even support all the features of HTML4.

Does that mean there aren't any standards compliant browsers? So as you see standards compliance is a sort of funny phrase in the browser world. The proper question to ask would be does it support standard X, and does it support feature Y from standard X, and is standard X even finished yet, or could it change?

Internet Explorer 9's standard support include almost complete support for HTML4, and CSS2.1. And partial support for HTML5 and CSS3. And a bunch of other stuff I don't use like SVG, DOM and all this other stuff. Which is pretty much the same as every other browser out there at the moment.

Neither HTML5 or CSS3 are finished yet, so naturally browsers have to be conservative with implementing features from them, if the standard changed before being released, you'd have one body of developers and browsers rendering things in the old draft way, essentially breaking the web again like back with CSS2. We've seen this trend happening far too much in the technology world lately, what with all the Draft N wireless devices about, all of which could have been rendered obsolete if the final N standard changed. To be completely honest implementing standards which are still under development is just asking for trouble.

Open platforms which allow you to customise and build your own methods of working are the future, and until Microsoft see that this is the way the tide is turning, rather than developing closed systems that require, say, a shiny expensive Office suite to work correctly, they will continue to be shunned by the cool kids.

Office 2010 reads and writes to Office Open XML also known as ISO/IEC 29500 Transitional. This is an international standard that anybody can implement. it also reads and writes OpenDocument also known as ISO/IEC 26300. Another open standard. Office hasn't been using closed, hard to read binary formats in years. Try and keep up.

It's a Windows only browser. Nobody developing websites is going to only include Windows users. There are so many mobile Internet users now. The future of the web is in the palm, so that's smartphones and tablets.

Err, if developers write to the standards they don't need to target IE9. That's the point of standards, remember? It's just the people using it have a better experience.

To make the IE9/Windows 7 features really shine only takes a couple of lines of code. Amazon do it, Twitter are doing it, Facebook and doing it, and I'm doing it too.

Oh and by the way Windows = >90% of my visitors across my websites. Mobile = <5%.

very surprised that your article completely missed the fact that 6 out of 10 windows users are running XP which microsoft in their wisdom have decided cannot use IE9 - if i made the decision to roll out one of my key new products to only 40 percent of my existing customer base, not sure i would make it out of the office alive....!

Correct. IE9 won't work on Windows XP, not out of simply choice. But because Windows XP doesn't support the technologies to do this well. Namely DirectX10 and Direct2D both of which were introduced with Windows Vista.

Anyway can you imagine how bad IE9 would look with the bright fisher-price style UI of Windows XP going around it? Yuck.

""Instead of using 10% of the power on your PC, we're now using 100%," says Leila Martine, who runs the Windows consumer business in the UK."

and what will happen to those of us who run other applications at the same time? will everything else slow down to a crawl?

Don't be daft. She's not talking about using 100% of your CPU, she's talking about making use of the hardware in your machine. It uses less CPU than other browsers because it dumps more of the work onto the GPU, which normally is sat there idling away.

What's IE9's Acid3 score? :) IE7 manages a piddling 12%, IE8 20% (according to the screenshot on Wikipedia), FF 3.6.10 manages 94% and most WebKit browsers 100%...

It's 95, you know it really isn't hard to find out. It won't support the remaining features that Acid3 uses because they're not going to be part of a standard.

HTC's Windows Phone 7 modifications

With Microsoft now preventing 3rd parties from performing massive UI overhauls, like HTC have traditionally done with Windows Mobile and Android with their TouchFLO 3D and later Sense interfaces, manufacturers and mobile operators are left to create applications and hubs - like everyone else.

Obviously HTC have invested a lot of money over the years to create their own unique look and feel, so they'll try and recreate what they can on Windows Phone 7. Here's a sneak peak of what they've been up to lately.

Here we can see a note taking application, with probably more fancy effects than what is actually needed. A weather application, probably one of the things HTC is better known for. A stock price tracker and a weird "loves me" application. We can also see a flashlight application, from the tile it looks similar to what they've done with their flashlight application on Android.

I am glad that on Windows Phone 7 we can move this stuff off the start screen. As cool as this stuff is (minus the he loves me application) with it being so graphically over the top I'm not sure if it fits in well with the rest of the operating system. In the weather application for example the temperature sits where the application title would, but unlike everything else it, along with the rest of the information subtly moves around a bit, may be it helps visualise wind speed. Either way not exactly the most consistent application with the rest of the device experience.

Either way, I'll be keeping the weather tile on my start screen. I'm surprised they haven't done a big tile for a clock, something else they're pretty well recognised for both on Windows Mobile and Android.

Some optimisations for Gamercast on IE9

Over the last couple of weeks I decided to do a few quick changes to the Gamercast website to make it a little bit more swish for Internet Explorer 9, which was released in beta form yesterday. With support for border-radius and box-shadow from CSS3 it was really a no brainer to make use of them (if only it supported multi-column too).

Unlike Chrome and Firefox, Internet Explorer 9 doesn't need to use proprietary extensions to make use of these features. Which is why they're not showing up in those browsers properly, standards aren't standards when you're adding -moz and -webkit before everything.

Gamercast as shown in IE9

Simple but effective.

More importantly however was implementing support for Internet Explorer 9's ability to pin websites to the Start Menu or Taskbar. Gamercast has always had a fairly high-resolution icon, so that wasn't much of a problem. You can drag any website you want to the Taskbar, but out of the box it'll behave like a standard shortcut, bar the "branding" differences that will happen to IE9, as per the screenshot above you can see the back and forward icons have taken colour from the icon, as well as having the website's icon displayed to the left fo them. This is specific to websites being launched from the Start Menu or Taskbar, and doesn't happen to websites browsed to more conventionally.

Adding support for jumplists was however pretty easy, and I'm sure with a bit more time I can do something a lot more fancy with this.

As you can see from the screenshot, the pinned website looks like a native application running on Windows 7, with a bunch of options provided in the jumplist providing quick access to subscription options, Twitter, or jumping straight into some content be they videos on YouTube, or just seeing what the latest news is.

For a basic jumplist all you need to do is place the following in the webpage's header:

<meta name="application-name" content="Name" />
<meta name="msapplication-tooltip" content="Text for tooltip" />
<meta name="msapplication-starturl" content="Default URL"/>
<meta name="msapplication-task" content="name=Example;action-uri=/path/;icon-uri=/icon.ico;"/>

For more fancy stuff such as subheadings you can use a bit of script:

<script type='text/javascript'>
function customJumplist() {
window.external.msSiteModeCreateJumplist('Example heading');
window.external.msSiteModeAddJumpListItem('Example', '/examplepath/', '/icon.ico');
window.external.msSiteModeAddJumpListItem('Example2', '/examplepath/', '/icon.ico');

If you're using IE9 head over to Gamercast and drag it into the Taskbar and check it out for yourself.

Google Instant: Been there, done that

With a fair bit of hype Google launched their "Instant" search yesterday. Well Catherine was getting it, it wasn't showing up on my machine despite being behind the same router and using the same browser. Today it is.

Google describe it as:

The new experience transforms search, delivering results instantly, in a way that has never been done before. Now, results appear automatically.

Very nice. Basically it returns results for every character you type, well less so if you type fast. At the moment it's being pretty slow here, and only kicks in after I've typed a word or two. Was a bit faster yesterday so I assume their servers are under more load than usual due to all the coverage.

But Long Zheng in about two hours put together the same thing over a year ago with Bing's AJAX APIs.

Never been done before? Get real Google. You also lose points for using the word "magic" in your little marketing video.

I'll stick to using Bing as my default search engine, I only ever copy and paste things into Google, such as error messages as Google seem to do better in that regard and as such Google Instant isn't much use to me.

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