Microsoft

Why I like Windows 8 on my desktop machine

I like the Windows 8 operating system on my custom built “ultimate developer rig” desktop machine:

Why do I like it when there has been a lot said about that crazy new user interface?

Performance

First, the performance is great.

I built my desktop machine in 2008. It has 8 gb of memory and while my excessive tabs in Chrome browser were slowing me down, the machine itself felt a bit slow.

Until, I upgraded to Windows 8. With Windows 8, the UI felt fast again. To quantify, it didn’t feel like I suddenly got a much faster machine but I noticed and appreciated the performance improvements in speed and memory utilization. YMMV.

Missing Start Button?

For myself, I do not miss the Start button. I didn’t use it that much.

However!

The new ‘Natural user interface’ that is key to windows does not work well if you don’t have a touch interface. I don’t have a touch monitor. However, I’m a keyboard and mouse ninja so I don’t have many problems with just:

  1. Creating shortcuts
  2. Using Launchy (Alt+Space ftw!)
  3. And, occasionally, going to the main Win8 NUI to find/do something.
  4. Btw, the shortcuts mentioned by Hanselman in this blog post are very useful (Win+I and Win+X).

Windows 8 Features

Here’s some of the Windows 8 features that I do like:

  • Dual monitor support – independent backgrounds, taskbar enhancements and keyboard support to move apps is very nice. Btw, get the Bing Dynamic theme and you’ll have the amazing Bing.com pictures as your background.
  • Task manager – There’s been a lot of nice improvements in the Task Manager. Read this post to learn how to use the Win8 task manager.
  • File Copy – The file copy dialog *seems* more accurate now. Steven Sinofsky has a good post about it here.
  • Eject USB drives – Improved because it seems when I eject from Win8, it actually works. Small but annoying little feature that helps me.
  • App Snapping – I didn’t think this would be useful for me but it has been. So far, I’ve only tried it with the MetroTwit and Google search apps. The google search app is cool because you can perform a voice search right from your desktop.

Not for everyone

Windows 8 is not for everyone. In fact, I’m not saying that it’s the best OS out there (aka, I’d love to spend a few months with a Macbook Air). In fact, I would NOT want to trade in my iPad for a Surface.

What I am saying is that if you’re like me: a desktop Windows 7 power user who is not afraid of the keyboard. Then, you may want to check out Windows 8.

Summary

Windows 8 has a lot of minor improvements in the UI and experience that all add up to a good upgrade for my desktop machine.

Did I mention the performance improvements? That is my favorite Windows 8 feature.

Overall, it’s faster and smoother than Windows 7. And being that I’m a geek, I know how to get around it. So, it’s fun for me.
Keep an open mind and try it. Hopefully, it’s fun for you as well. Smile

Advertisements

Windows Hand Cursor: How to show a pointing finger for mobile demos

Wouldn’t it be cool to turn the Windows cursor into realistic finger for touch software demos and general fun?

That’s what I thought to myself while I was preparing for my latest webinar presentation. I’m not sure if I dreamed the idea or I saw someone do it on a Mac but I thought it would make the demo more interesting if I could pull it off.

CursorAttention to the rescue

Luckily, there is a great piece of free and open-source .NET software called PenAttention.

PenAttention is a free Windows program that displays a highlight, pencil, or pointer at the location of the pen. It’s intended for use in presentations on a Tablet PC so your audience can see what you’re pointing at on the screen, since most programs show the pen’s location with an eensy-weenie-teenie-tiny dot that is almost impossible to see on a projector screen. For a demo, see the overview video.

However, since Tablet PC are no longer the norm, you likely want to get CursorAttention:

The sister program, CursorAttention, is designed to run on Windows machines that are not Tablet PC’s. This may be useful if you wish to highlight the mouse location or use a non-active digitizer (e.g. an external tablet).

CursorAttention is not exactly like PhoneFinger because it was created for a different purpose. However, by adding one file, we can get the same functionality as PhoneFinger to demo mobile apps on a Microsoft Windows machine.

Steps

  1. Download CursorAttention and install it.
  2. In the CursorAttention install folder, add a file called CustomPen.png.
    1. The folder on a Windows 7 machine is typically located here:
      C:\Program Files (x86)\CursorAttention
    2. What is CustomPen.png? This is a custom image that is attached to the mouse cursor. In our case, we’ll want a PNG image of a hand with a pointing finger.
    3. I took a diagonal picture of my own hand:
      CustomPen
      It didn’t actually look like that. The picture above is the final product after my friend Drew used his mad Photoshop skillz to create a transparent background and clean up the image.
    4. I simply took that image above and dropped it into the CursorAttention folder and renamed the image CustomPen.png.
  3. That’s it. Now, run CursorAttention.
    1. Right click on the system tray menu.
    2. Select ‘Show Pencil’ and enjoy Smile

      image

Of course, the CustomPen.png image can be anything, a lolcat or bunny but it makes sense to use a hand for mobile device demos. In fact, I used this technique in a recent webinar to show the slick DevExpress ASP.NET solution to developing apps for the iPad.  Watch the webinar video below:

Mehul Harry DevExpress ASP.NET iPad Apps Webinar

 

I had a lot of fun using CursorAttention and found that the hand cursor really helped the viewers to better visualize iPad touch apps when demoed from Microsoft Windows.

Level Up

The CursorAttention solution with a custom hand image works really well except for one small problem:

image

At the tip of the finger, it kept the native Windows cursor too which ended up overlapping on top of the finger.

Here’s an easy workaround, use these free “Small Dot” cursors. They are small enough not to overlap. Simply download and install them. Unfortunately, you have to manually set each cursor in windows. However, once that is done, you have a tiny dot that is hardly noticeable with the main finger cursor.

Try this solution the next time you have demo mobile app on Windows and would like to use a hand/finger cursor. Then leave me a comment below with your thoughts. Thanks.

Free data sets – Northwind alternatives

data-computer-keysAt my day job, I write a lot of demos for videos, webinars and basically to help customers/developers. And the number one source of data used for these demos? Northwind.

Why?

  1. Great set of various data to bind to different things like grids, reports, and charts.
  2. It is used by many Microsoft samples.
  3. Available for SQL Server and Microsoft Access.
  4. Easily distributable.

So what’s problem? It’s a bit boring to always use the same set of data. In fact, Scott Hanselman even tried to stir the community with a call to action to come up with sources other than Northwind. That was back in 2008 and unfortunately, not many other sources were offered.

So, I’ve scoured the internet and below are several resources that I’ve found. Warning: You may need to “clean-up” this data. And you may also need to import it to your database of choice.

Fresh Data For Free

Good news, it’s easy these days to find interesting sources of data. And for free. If you’re willing to dig around and clean up some of the data, it’s right there for the taking.

Here’s a few:

freebaselogo FreeBase.com Freebase is a large collaborative knowledge base consisting of metadata composed mainly by its community members.

Freebase data is available for free/libre for commercial and non-commercial use under a Creative Commons Attribution License, and an open API, RDF endpoint, and database dump are provided for programmers. –Wikipedia

Download the latest dumps directly from here:

http://download.freebase.com/datadumps/Browse the latest dumps

Government Data

The US government has made available lots of government data. Not all of it is interesting or even ‘clean’. However, there is lots of data:

Other sources

For reference – Stackoverflow –

Amazon Web Services offers some public data sets as well. Though you will need an Amazon EC2 account.

Tim Berners-Lee on the next web

Here’s an interesting talk about data and the next web from the father of the internet, Tim Berners-Lee:

Do you have other sources of data? Drop me a note below. Thanks!

Visual Studio 2008 Hotfix Released! Performance and Editor fixes

Microsoft has just released the hotfix (KB946581) that many of you have been waiting for. It fixes a number items including the issues mentioned in a previous post. I know from emails that they’ve worked hard to get this ready for shipping. You can find more details and download the small (2.6 mb) file here: 

Your Websites, Our Passion! : Downloadable Hotfix: Performance and Editor fixes for Microsoft Visual Studio 2008 and Visual Web Developer Express 2008

I recommend taking a note of Scott’s summary in case you run into any problems with this fix. I’ve been running a version of it for a couple of weeks and it’s been fairly stable. Here is the list of items that have been fixed:

Issues that are fixed: We have fixed several bugs in this hotfix. All bug fixes are listed below.

HTML Source view performance

  • Source editor freezes for a few seconds when typing in a page with a custom control that has more than two levels of sub-properties.
  • “View Code” right-click context menu command takes a long time to appear with web application projects.
  • Visual Studio has very slow behavior when opening large HTML documents.
  • Visual Studio has responsiveness issues when working with big HTML files with certain markup.
  • The Tab/Shift-Tab (Indent/Un-indent) operation is slow with large HTML selections.

Design view performance

  • Slow typing in design view with certain page markup configurations.

HTML editing

  • Quotes are not inserted after Class or CssClass attribute even when the option is enabled.
  • Visual Studio crashes when ServiceReference element points back to the current web page.

JavaScript editing

  • When opening a JavaScript file, colorization of the client script is sometimes delayed several seconds.
  • JavaScript Intellisense does not work if an empty string property is encountered before the current line of editing.

Web Site build performance

  • Build is very slow when Bin folder contains large number of assemblies and .refresh files with web-site projects.

Thanks!

Create Ribbon-Like Toolbars with DevExpress ASP.NET Menu Control

Our ASPxMenu Suite sports some very cool features for a Web Navigation tool. Of course there are the standard menu things like root/sub menus arranged in a variety of ways. This image collage from the ASPxMenu home page shows off our Menu’s fine capabilities.

But what if you wanted to create a Toolbar and not just a menu? In fact, what if you wanted to create a cool Microsoft Office Ribbon-like toolbar? Now if you haven’t yet seen the new Microsoft Office UI and its Ribbon toolbar then check out this Channel 9 video:

Julie Larson-Green – Diving into the new Office 12  

MS Office Ribbon Bar

 

 

 

 

 

The new Ribbon Toolbar is certainly very slick and probably a nice way to spice an application. In fact, we currently (and beautifully) support this Ribbon Bar with our own version for both WinForms(XtraBars) and VCL(ExpressBars 6). Although this doesn’t help us ASP.NET guys much.

Luckily you can use our ASPxMenu Control and with some simple setup, turn it into a Ribbon-like toolbar. Now this is not a complete look and feel of the Ribbon control, however, it is a simple one with our control.

In this six minute screencast, I’ll show you how to basically bind the ASPxMenu control to a simple XML datasource:

ASPxMenu: How to Create a Toolbar Emulation (6 min 3 sec)

MenuItems.xml

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="windows-1251"?>
<MenuItems>
<RootItem Text="Reply" ImageUrl="~/Images/reply.png" NavigateUrl="j_avascript:void(1);">
<SubItem Text="Reply Sender" ImageUrl="~/Images/reply-sender.png" NavigateUrl="j_avascript:void(2);"/>
<SubItem Text="Reply Group" ImageUrl="~/Images/reply-group.png" NavigateUrl="j_avascript:void(3);"/>
</RootItem>
<RootItem Text="Previous" ImageUrl="~/Images/prev.png" BeginGroup="True" NavigateUrl="j_avascript:void(4);"/>
<RootItem Text="Next" ImageUrl="~/Images/next.png" NavigateUrl="j_avascript:void(5);"/>
<RootItem Text="Help" ImageUrl="~/Images/help.png" BeginGroup="True" NavigateUrl="j_avascript:void(6);"/>
</MenuItems>

*NavigateUrl items changed for this post, underscore not necessary after j.

After binding to the XmlDataSource and setting up some of the properties of the ASPxMenu we get a decent looking toolbar.

In the screencast, I go a little further by using the templates of the ASPxMenu to really give the menu that Ribbon-like appearance. For the submenus, you need to create a webcontrol that will actually hold another ASPxMenu control. This new webcontrol will then be added to the main ASPxMenu control via code. The final result is a very stunning Ribbon-like toolbar for your ASP.NET 2 websites:

You can download the source for this project here: ASPxMenu_Tutorial1.zip

You can see this toolbars feature also in our online demos.

Visual Studio 2005 SP 1

Looks like the Visual Studio 2005 SP 1 has been released.

Microsoft Download

As Somasegar’s says in blog post:

"We released Visual Studio 2005 Service Pack 1 earlier today.  

This Service Pack addresses a range of issues that were found through customer and partner feedback as well as our own internal testing.  Many of these issues were reported by you and I thank you for taking the time to report them to us.  The release also adds a number of customer requested functionality and enhancements to some of the most common development scenarios to Visual Studio that I think you’ll find interesting and valuable.

For developers using Windows Vista we also released a beta of the Visual Studio 2005 SP1 Update for Windows Vista.

You can find out more about both of these releases here."