Searching for monkeys in Cyberspace

Silverlight in XULRunner

clock May 17, 2007 06:00 by author OffBeatMammal

Now I'm not sure if this is useful, or even clever but it seemed like a good idea at the time...

There's a lot of words about the different RIA platforms at the moment and everyone has their own idea of what's going to do what and how it's going to do it - which is funny given they're all in alpha/beta right now and got a lot of evolution to go. Personally I like the goals and capabilities in Silverlight (but then again even though I'm a pragmatic evangelist - I'm biased!)

One of the earliest frameworks out there was XULRunner (used in Firefox, Thunderbird, Songbird etc) - it supports applications designed in XUL (and XML markup language) and scripted with Javascript.....

It reminded me of Silverlight. Now, although SIlverlight is browser based the philosophy appears to be complementary rather than competitive (I'm sure there must be a word that combines the essence of both. Update: This is. It's Coopetition!) so I started to wonder how well the two would play together....

So I dived in feet first and dumped a sample project into a framework XULRunner project.

Big fat zero :(

The background appeared, but no Silverlight goodness. So time for debugging.

First problem was the Silverlight browser check... it looks for "Firefox" in the UserAgent, and XULRunner returns a pretty sparse UA. Now I know I've seen somewhere that there's an option to override the US that XULRunner produces, but it was quicker to tweak the Silverlight.js to look for Gecko ;)

That little hiccup out of the way, it still didn't want to load the external XAML, so the easiest approach was to drop it inline in the main source file.

Success! The clock sample happily running in XULRunner :)

Have a look at the sample SilverlightXUL project here (it assumes you have XULRunner already installed in the directory above where you unzip this sample - have a look at the .bat file to make sure the path is right)

Okay, so it's cool... but does it help? It actually opens up a bunch of questions around what's actually possible

  • Can we embed a Silverlight control in the midst of XUL UI elements?
  • Can we fire events from the XUL layer into the Silverlight element and vice versa?
  • How do I fix the UserAgent string so the Silverlight detection works right?
  • How can I get the Silverlight control working with external and dynamic XAML
  • How can we make these two things place nice together to do some really cool stuff!

So now I just need to find someone who knows XULrunner, and spend some more time experimenting with Silverlight in the framework ;)

Are Apple deliberately annoying Windows users?

clock May 14, 2007 18:50 by author OffBeatMammal

I've been playing around with a shiny MacbookPro recently which I've got set up with BootCamp (and sometimes trying our Parallels and Fusion to get Vista and OSX playing nice together).

Sadly I've noticed some little things that, like my earlier complaints about iTunes, lead me to wonder if Apple are not living up to their legendry usability reputation with their Vista support, or if it's a deliberate tactic?

Using the MacbookPro under BootCamp with it's built in keyboard:

  • Why do I have to hit Fn+Delete to delete something? It causes me pain in Internet Explorer, in Outlook, in several other apps. Hitting Delete on its own sends a backspace which has all sorts of unexpected and unintended results... and as I keep forgetting to hit the Fn key I end up cursing. I'm sure it wouldn't be too hard to make the keymapping user controllable?
  • Why doesn't the keyboard backlighting work? I love it in OSX. It makes typing late at night so much easier. But in BootCamp I don't get the option any more. I'm sure it's not going to be rocket science to write (after all, there are Microsoft and 3rd party keyboards on the market for Vista that already have this capability) Update: Looks like BootCamp 1.3 will support this for MacbookPros. Shiny ;)
  • Get SongbirdI like the fact that the Front Row remote works with iTunes under BootCamp, but like remappable keyboard buttons I'd love to be able to use it with the media player of my choice (for instance SongBird). I'd also like it to be able to control the media player without forcing me to hit the "menu" button to bring it to the foreground - no more running it minimised and being able to control it. The Keyspan remote has this facility which makes it so much more useful.

These are not big issues, but little frustrations that, like the issues with Parallels and Fusion, stop this solution being "prime time".

Which leads me on to another frustration with iTunes... On our home machine we have a combined library of music, but three users who can log on. Of course you can only have iTunes running on one profile at a time (so if someone forgets to close iTunes the others are locked out until they find out who it was that had it open) and even if you point the Library to the same directory it doesn't share the library and playlist meta-data. And to sync the three iPods we have in the house (a 3G, a Nano and a Shuffle) you have to log into the correct users account as well.

On the iTunes frustration subject... why does it play so badly with media keys on keyboards. My MS natural keyboard can happily control Windows Media Player, and my old Vaio T27GP media keys would control WMP or Songbird out of the box, but needed a third party add-on for iTunes.

Windows Media, SlimDevices and Songbird handle these situations so much more elegantly that once again you have to wonder why Apple just don't seem to get it....

Actually, on the subject of media keys... I'm surprised the MacbookPro doesn't include them on that huge expanse of keyboard surface.

Still on iTunes... if all I want is QuickTime (rare, but there are some media sites that like it) why do I have to installed iTunes just to get it? 

Work smarter - sharing your desktop

clock May 14, 2007 18:22 by author OffBeatMammal

There have been a few shared desktop applications available for a while. Sadly they're either slow or expensive (or both) and not viable for small ad hoc project teams.

Well, help is at hand. Codename "Tahiti" from Microsoft has just gone into pre-beta and is open to all (provided you're quick) for free. The official beta is scheduled for late May and more people will be able to join up to play.

Teams of up to 15 people may use it to share applications like Notepad or Word (and if you have change tracking on in Word then Tahiti records who changed what) as well as screenshots that participants can see but not change.

Anyone with a LiveID can join into a session, but the organizer can control who is invited and who actually gets access to the session so you don't have to worry about eavesdroppers. Unhelpful attendees can also be forcibly ejected at any time (and blocked from trying to return!)

VMWare understands Boot Camp better than Parallels

clock May 14, 2007 04:21 by author OffBeatMammal

A while ago I tried using Parallels on the MacbookPro. I thought it was pretty cool, especially the coherence mode but it fell down because it wouldn't let me use the Vista Bootcamp installation. I thought that was pretty lame.

Looking around I discovered VMWare (which powers the Moka5 engine) now have a similar product in beta called Fusion.

Fusion has a couple of pretty major advantages over Parallels in that it works with the BootCamp partition and it can take advantage of both cores of the host machine - so performance it pretty good compared to parallels (in fact, it's comparable to running native under BootCamp)

Sadly there are a few issues with the current beta compared to Parallels which make it less fun. For a start there's no coherence mode (which I think is pretty awesome for seamless integration. Update: Unity is coming) and, annoyingly, the window doesn't resize automagically when you stretch the container (my bad. fiddle with the settings and it works just fine).

Both Parallels and Fusion do a great job of allowing an OSX user to access the goodness of Vista, thought at the moment Fusion is inching ahead for me - it means I can develop a Silverlight application under Vista, reboot to OSX and test it in Safari.

It's going to be interesting to see where both VMWare and parallels go with their products in the coming months - they're pretty much in direct competition so it's going to be a feature war... which is always good for users ;)

While I think the Parallels interface is really good at the moment, VMware have been around and playing in this field (and I know folks who work there - hi Reid!) so time will tell...


Hubpages has a make-over

clock May 9, 2007 06:19 by author OffBeatMammal

Hubpages  is a cool collection of user wisdom. I've contributed a couple of posts there rather than just add them here.

Got a ping from them a couple of days ago announcing a re-design of the site.

It's kept all the best bits of the interface for creating content (a very good Ajax driven interface that's just improved over time) and polished the interface and usability.

It's a pretty reliable resource as other users can comment and thumb up/down articles.

Unlike reference sites such as Wikipedia the range of topics covered here is pretty eclectic but growing every day - check it out!

Better Battery Life

clock May 9, 2007 05:10 by author OffBeatMammal

I like Aero. It makes Vista slick and pleasing on the eye. But it puts more load on the system which is fine when attached to the mains, but when I'm running on battery the eye candy can contribute to less runtime that I'd like.

In Vista it's easy enough to turn Aero on and off, but it's a pain having to remember and wade through menus to get there every time.

It was really cool to discover a little app that sits in the systray and does it all for me - check out Clints Vista Battery Saver.

What's really cool is Clint released this as open source and folks have already suggested some neat changes which he's taking onboard so expect this to get even cooler over time...

Update: I made some changed to the app to include some of the other suggestions and sent them back to Clint. Because he's cleverer than me he integrated them in a much better way and didn't break anything, so check out his new version.

Update: Tamir from MS has now made a fully logo compliant app that controls Aero and Sidebar to save precious ergs... Doesn't let you turn it back on on-demand though (yet)!

Tweaking IE

clock May 8, 2007 05:27 by author OffBeatMammal

No toolbar is perfect. I enjoy Quero but it's got one or two little weirdnesses so I was looking for a better solution.

FrankArr and Steve Clayton had both mentioned IE7pro and it turned up today on InsideMicrosoft so I thought I'd finally give it a try... and it's very cool.

It adds some neat functions to IE by default, but most of all the add-on provides a lot of flexibility and configuration beyond the standard setup and allows a much more customized experience for IE users.

It's great to see the ways in which IE7 has revitalized the community around the platform... bodes well for the future... but for right now, give IE7pro a try...

MIX07 is over... so what did I do there?

clock May 6, 2007 05:00 by author OffBeatMammal

The last couple of months a lot of my focus has been around Silverlight and the upcoming MIX07 conference. There's a whole bunch of write-ups about MIX available on the web and I don't need to add too much about the event itself (one of my favorites is here) but it was one of the most stunning conferences I've attended.

Microsoft rolled out some really cool stuff and engaged in some great conversations. Silverlight had already been announced at NAB but at MIX we followed up with the news that the 1.1 release (currently available in alpha) would feature a cross-platform common language runtime supporting a range of languages from C# to IronPython.

As well as giving away copied of Vista Ultimate we included limited edition copies of the Expression Suite tools in the swag bag (as well as had lots of demos and sessions featuring them being used).

Me and the rest of the Cowboy Evangelistos were on point for the keynote customer demos - luckily that doesn't mean we have to build them! We were lucky enough to work with some great partners, agencies and the very smart folks internally to bring them to fruition (after with very compressed timescales).

Personally I was involved in two. They just happened to be the first demo of the opening keynote and the last demo of the closing keynote - quite stressful for the newbie.

So, what were they?

Well, we opened with a great demo from Netflix for a Silverlight based Instant Watching experience. On-stage we had Neil Hunt from Netflix and Darin Brown from AvenueA Razorfish demonstrate the single user viewing platform and then the shared, synchronized experience (in IE on a PC and Firefox on a Mac).

You can see that demo here. The important thing to remember about this demo is that the team at AA|RF working closely with Netflix built in in less than 3 weeks from when we first called them to introduce them to each other - that's from concept to live demo. Check out the interview with Neil here.

The AA|RF folks also developed a proof of concept for Brightcove that we demonstrated at NAB (if you have a look here it's show at around 00:30). Apart from that they'd not worked with Silverlight before.

Behind the scenes of the BBC Demo. And yes, that's a Mac Book Pro above my headMy other focus for MIX07 was a demonstration with the BBC developed by Microsoft in the UK and AKQA. This showed a fairly simple concept of an "access all areas" badge that can contain a collection of multi-media elements and either be delivered exclusively to event attendees or crated by users and shared via Windows Live Messenger.

Jason DaPonte from the BBC did an awesome job of presenting on-stage and I drove the demo from behind the curtain, playing both "Jack" and "Jill" - have a look at the video of the demo to see how good the application looks, and check out an interview with Jason on the process of building the app.

What made my day was this comment from someone who only saw it on the webcast!

This was my first big Microsoft conference and was a lot of fun. It was pretty stressful to have a couple of the keynote demos to manage through the various steps, but I was lucky to have great support internally and some awesome partners to do most of the actual work. Of course this does mean that I'l going to have to be able to pull it off again for MIX08...

Windows Mobile 6 is here!

clock May 6, 2007 01:35 by author OffBeatMammal

Okay, so I dogfooded WM6 on my K-Jam, but now I can officially grab WM6 from T-Mobile for both my HTC Wizard (known on T-Mobile as an MDA) and Storms Dash.

Sweet ;)

Now just got to find time to do it, and then re-install everything else on my phone!

Update 7 May: Upgraded Storms Dash. Went without a hiccup and the phone is working a treat. Fixed the niggling problem she was having with volume dropping during a call which is good news.

Update 8 May: Realised the MDA update wasn't for WM6, just the AKU2 updater for WM5 :(

Expression Suite in Toronto

clock May 6, 2007 01:24 by author OffBeatMammal

So, a few weeks ago I had to make a mad dash to Toronto to work with the great folks from Thurling Media to show them the parts of Expression Suite they were integrating into their Expression/Silverlight introduction for NAB. It was a pretty insane trip (I spent more time on each flight than I actually spent in Toronto) but we were able to do some great stuff with Expression Design, Blend and Media - and their edit looks great.

This extract from the full video shows mostly the bits I helped out with. If you were at NAB you'll have seen the full thing. Although it all looks real the screens were actually remoted from a different room on site and the mouse and keyboard was actually being driven by me.

I'm looking forward to further opportunities to work with these guys - it's great to spend time with a very talented team who so obviously enjoy their work and produce great quality HD content.



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