Articles in the ‘Microsoft’ Category

Microsoft’s Design Evolution

Windows 7 Series Phone UI

This is an opinion piece about Microsoft’s Windows 7 Series phones. The opinions are my own and not that of my employer.

I remember the ‘good old days’. Back in 2004 (at uni) I tried to create a Windows CE program for a little mobile device. My friends and I spent months trying to get it to work (at one point resorting to Java, quickly realising our mistake), and in the end all we could produce was a list of menu items and a few forms. The overall user experience (UX) was horrible and it was slow and unintuitive. That was the standard for Microsoft products of the time.

The turnaround began in 2005 when MS hired their new head if UX for Office, Jenny Lam. Jenny revolutionised the tired Office UI with the ribbon, and hence inspired the Windows 7 UI. A few years later, the Xbox team developed the NXE, based on ideas from the Windows Vista media centre interface, which was leaps and bounds better than the XP MCE UI. This “text focused” design, using Jenny’s Segoe UI typeface found it’s way into he Zune, and came to fruition in the Zune HD. From this, we get the next evolution, the 7 series phone.

With such a clear evolutionary path, it’s hard to see why so many people are surprised by the new phone OS. When the Zune HD launched, people cried out for this UX to be made into a phone. Now that wish has been granted and Apple should be scared.

The 7 series UI is everything that the iPhone is not. It’s got a home screen that displays useful information, with integration into multiple web services out of the box. It’s got cloud-enabled apps, not relying on purpose built sites but working with service leaders. It’s got a calendar that’s useful, and a UI paradigm that is consistent, though, as with the ribbon toolbar, will take some getting used to.

And that’s the thing with MS’s UX strategy. They are now prepared to go out on a limb to try new stuff, even if it may require a learning curve.

We had a question go round the office a few days ago: name a MS app that was rubbish at first, and is now a market leader. We named pretty much every product that MS make (except IE). With 7 series phone, MS have completed their line up. Far from being a dead company to the consumer, Microsoft are still the king of the hill.

Where do MS go from here? The evolution will continue, and although it will seem slow, with product releases every 2-3 years, innovation will continue to flourish. MS will never be a trend setter, and will mostly go their own way, but their way is rarely wrong. I predict that MS still have their best work within, and you would be a fool to ignore them.

jQuery to be Integrated with ASP .NET

Fantastic news! Long-time golden boy of the javascript world, jQuery, is to be integrated with Microsoft’s ASP .NET framework.

In an announcement today on the jQuery blog, Scott Guthrie’s blog and Scott Hanselman’s blog, the jQuery library would be distributed AS IS with Visual Studio 2008 SP1 and the free Express editions. The aim is to extend ASP .NET AJAX support and generally make life easier for MS developers. Microsoft would also be contributing tests and patches to the jQuery core, but would not be submitting features etc.

This is a massive boost for a framework that won me and my company over a long time ago. jQuery now has backing from the biggest names in IT and will benefit immensely from the additional support.

The benefits are not only for the jQuery team, they’re also for any web standardistas. This support for jQuery signals Microsoft’s intentions for the ASP framework. I can only hope that from this, Microsoft adopts jQuery in its entirety, having ASP output unobtrusive, cross-browser javascript, not the ‘impossible to debug or follow’ mess that it currently uses.

A quick guide to IE8’s new features – Activites and WebSlices

With the release of Internet Explorer 8 beta 1 this week, MS debuted a few new features for the browser. Not only is it more standards compliant etc (read about all the features here), there are two major features which developers can utilise to make web sites and services more accessible through IE8. I’m talking about Activites and WebSlices.

Activities is a browser feature where you can right-click on the page and bring up a context-sensitive menu where you can perform actions based on the content of the page. You can also select some text, say the address of a restaurant, and a drop-down menu will appear with options for a map or wikipedia entry. You can also get a preview of the resulting page if you hover over the link.


Read more…

One long week

This has been a truly amazing week. I’ve travelled over 1000 miles and I’m not done travelling yet. I’ve had success, I’ve had failure, but I’ve also had so much fun that I’d do it all again in an instant.

Everything started on Tuesday really, with my trip to Fujitsu. An early start meant travelling to Bracknell for 1pm, where I met 4 other people who, honestly, only one of which I liked. The day was done by Fujitsu’s recruitment people, Alexmann. The presentation was boring and I was nervous when doing our individual presentations because I hadn’t really practised it. I really wasn’t bothered with the Fujitsu job. The pay they were offering was the lowest that I was applying for and the offices were horrid. The group exercise that we did didn’t go particularly well either as the girl who was with us was determined to compromise on everything. Anyway, After that I came home, saw Zoe, then slept.

The Wednesday was a big day for me as it was the Microsoft Imagine Cup Roadshow tour. I’d spent ages organising it, getting parking permits, lecture theatres, buffets, but I’d not spent enough time advertising it, meaning that only 30 people turned up. However, it all went well and I think those that came enjoyed it. Some good free stuff was given out too. Straight after, I had to get on a train to Bracknell again as it was the HP interview the next day. This assessment centre was far more important than Fujitsu as it was the final stage so I’d actually done some preparation for this one. I had also just gotten a phone call from PA Consulting telling me I’d made it to their next round in early March. That was great news as the money they’re offering is amazing.

This train journey was good, I finally got into Bracknell at about 10pm. I then proceeded to the Travellodge where I’d booked a room for the night. However, the bloke at the desk informed me that they were full! (It was valentines day but still, I’d booked!) He then called a hotel nearby called the Coppid Beech Hotel, a far more upmarket place and got me a room. He then put £45 on my card so that I could stay in the £115 room for the £70 I was meant to be paying! I finally got into my room just after 11pm. In general, it was very nice and breakfast was good the next morning, but still, it was a lot of hassle. I spent the rest of the evening practising my presentation for the next morning.

So, the big day came around and I walked the 10 mins down the road to HP HQ at Amen Corner. The offices were huge and nicely laid out (everyone had ID tags that let them into bits of the building). They first showed us a presentation about what HP was and what I’d be doing for the next two years. HP seems to have a good balance between taught training and on the job experience. There were 14 of us there (meant to be 15) and this was the third of seven sessions. We were also told there were 35 jobs. 7*15=105/15 = 5 people to get jobs that day. Not bad odds! There were 4 tasks that day. My first task was a case study (I won’t go into detail) where you had to make recommendations and priorities how to change the IT infrastructure at this business. It wasn’t too bad and I’m pretty sure I spotted the pitfalls and avoided them so all good there. I then had a competency interview which went well enough. Like at PA, they talked about Steel Software and Genesys a lot whilst asking a few questions about service and HP itself. Afterwards we all had lunch (very nice) and we talked to the managing consultants including one guy who’d been there 18 years (very interesting man).
After lunch we had a team exercise. Using the usual stationary items plus 2 coins, straws and some wine gums, we had to come up with a game idea that lasted 10 mins for 4 people and then sell it to company directors in a dragon’s den style presentation. What we came up with was a board game similar to mousetrap. Go round the board (coins to set distance) and collect straws and elastic bands, then landing on a sweet square you had to use the straw/elastic band to pick up a sweet and put it on your tower. It was a fantastic idea and on talking to other people definitely seemed like the best one of the day (then again, it was my idea *ego*).
The final task was to do a presentation to one of the senior consultants. I presented Steel Software which was to time and prompted some good questions and seemed interesting too. The other guy in the room, another candidate, presented on a project he did in his sandwich year at Intel. However, he was talking about a project he was still under NDA for so his talk was somewhat devoid of detail on how exactly he solved problems but the message got across, somewhat boringly though.
After that was a short Q+A session with one of last year’s graduates. Turns out we’re only the second graduate intake in 10 years! After this I went home. Finally got to Sheffield at half 8 and then went straight to see the Guillemots at the octagon. Fantastic gig, they’d been better but they’d not had more energy than that performance. After the gig I went for a curry with my godfather, ended up getting home at 1am. Such an immensely long, but incredibly enjoyable day, left me rather drained and just wanting to sleep.

The next day I just didn’t wanna get out of bed. I got a call from Ernst and Young inviting me to interview shortly (I couldn’t make the day the wanted to they said they’d call me back). Sounds good to me! My first proper day at uni all week was alright, but the evening was special. Zoe and I had put off valentines until the Friday so I took her out to a nice restaurant and then we went home and watched a film. It capped off a great week in style.

I’m writing this on a train down to London (again). Tonight and tomorrow is the MSP event, I’m staying at the Hilton Metropole in central London, then on Tuesday is my IBM half-day, with two group exercises, one of which I’ve done before. All sounds great and I get to stay in hotels for another two nights. It’s strange but I’m becoming rather used to it. As a consultant I’ll basically be living in a hotel all week then going home at the weekends. I’m sure I’ll get bored in the end but all this travelling is exciting, meeting new people is great and I’m excited to start work (but also excited to stop job hunting!) I’ll miss Sheffield when I’m gone, mostly for the people and hockey, but I’ll find another club near Reading.

I need some sleep


Currently Listening To: Joan as Police Woman – Real Life
Currently Reading: Marketing bumpf
Currently Eating: Tesco sandwiches
Currently Watching: Grey’s Anatomy (you can’t kill off primary characters!!!)
Miles travelled this week: unknown (will edit later)