Yesterday was a long day to London, up at 4.00am for a 6.00am train with Dan Harris to London. A slight delay on the train, and we arrived to start at the Windows Phone Camp hosted by Lost Boys International.

WOW! What a place to work, the building had a very industrial theme to it, with art on the walls but the most noticeable bit was the fridges of beer, water and coca cola with a sign above them “Welcome to to LBi, help yourself”. What a great start to the day.

After registering and being lead downstairs there was even more insight into the good life that some of our counterparts at LBi enjoy, the break-out area was filled with pool tables, ping-pong tables couches, coffee tables, and a bar, complimented with more industrial meets 60’s diner decor. How do these guys manage to go home?

The first session was an introduction from Microsoft UK evangelist, Mike Ormond. Of all of the sessions in the day, I must say, I found this to be the most useful. It explained the overall design and development process. We were given some stencils and a design pack to help with designing our first Windows Phone apps. It was great to understand the differences between Pivot and Panorama views in Windows Phone apps, from my initial contact with the templates that come with Microsoft Expression Blend and Microsoft Visual Studio 2010, this was one of my key questions – they hadn’t immediately appeared all that different to each other – but now I find myself quite easily differentiating between parts of apps that are using each, and understanding why.

The rest of the day was then broken into lecture style sessions, and opportunity to use the break-out area. I attended the Silverlight Toolkit session. It helped me understand how to implement transitions between screens/elements during page transition, and fundamentally how to navigate between screens (which hadn’t leapt out to me when first picking up Windows Phone development – just goes to show it’s worth coming along to some sort of training session/boot camp like this).

At lunch time there was an exciting announcement for the Windows Phone Camp attendees that there’s a Nokia Lumia 800 for each of us so that we can test our apps if we can send the details of our apps over to them. Fantastic! Inspiration or what? I’ve had a number of ideas on my list for a couple of months now, since getting my own Windows Phone (see my other posts for my experience with that). Now was the time to get started on putting one together based on what I’ve learnt.

I took a break to get to work and met the excellent founders of Very friendly people, and not only did they direct me to an excellent repository of Windows Phone development news and advice (their website of course), but after finding what I’d look for in a repository of useful tools, showed me what they have to offer on their website. It sounds like it fits my requirements of a great free software component repository – free (truly), and includes community rating so I get a good understanding of whether the component is the correct one to use.

Within the hour I’d made fantastic progress on my first Windows Phone application development, an app to monitor/manage the status of MyDigitalMedia’s Kentico customer’s websites. This is a common requirement, and this functionality is normally available via the Kentico CMS built in Site Manager, but that doesn’t render very well for mobile use, which is when I usually get most of my calls from my customers. That 5.00pm call after I’ve left the office, saying they can’t get to their website. And usually, my answer is, I’ll check in the next 30 minutes when I can fire up my laptop, connect the mobile broadband and get onto the site manager. What better way to quickly get an answer for my customer than to check the app… whilst they’re on hold! That’s customer service if you ask me.

My experience, being a .NET developer, I’m currently working with WPF & Silverlight, WCF, WF, WinForms, WebForms, Windows Services and Web Services, so I have a fairly wide set of skills… picking up Windows Phone Development has actually been really quite easy.

I don’t think if I’d dumped myself in the deep end with WPF and Silverlight over the last 12 months, getting to grips with XAML I’d have found it as easy to adopt as I have, and my recent change in behaviour to using Microsoft Expression for UI exclusively and Visual Studio 2010 for code exclusively has certainly made my application creation progress so quickly. Infact, within just 3 hours I had the Windows Phone components of my application complete. I’ve only got to develop/finish the web service now that will read the status information from Kentico, and update as necessary.

Back to the day, I attended an excellent session hosted by Pete Vickers of Appa Mundi, on how to get your app into shape for submission to the Marketplace, including a full walkthrough of both testing your applications, the tools that you can use to test your apps yourself, and the extensive testing that Microsoft will carry out to certify your application before publication to the Marketplace as well as the actual submission process. A both useful, and well presented session by Pete, to finish off the day.

Back out onto the streets, we had a few hours to see the Tower Bridge in the snow before heading back on the train, by which point we were all very knackered and struggling to keep our eyes open I think.

A very worthwhile day, and I’m now all excited about my first app development.

I remember about a year ago someone asking me why I bother developing websites, and end-to-end business solutions… they told me that phone apps are the easiest way to make money at the moment.

Whilst I still disagree with them, I can see opportunity to make some money out of developing Windows Phone apps for the marketplace, but the main thing is I enjoy developing the full end-to-end solution for our customers. Providing them with a full answer to their business problems, rather than just a small piece of the jigsaw. I see developing apps for the Windows Phone platform fitting into this, and providing me with more ways to deliver the solutions that my customers demand in more ways than ever.

Posted: 05/02/2012 13:33:58 by Kurt Farrar | with 1 comments

OK, so I’ve had my Windows Phone 7.5 for 50 days now and although I got bored of blogging about it after a fortnight, I don’t think that reflects badly on the phone… how much can anyone REALLY write about a phone?

Anyway, it’s fair to say that I’ve not had any particularly bad experiences with my Windows Phone, and I’m still very pleased with the device.

Since my last post about my Windows Phone, I’ve found some great features, and found some disappointment with the manufacturer, but that’s not Microsoft’s fault.

So anyway the highs, I discovered a number of useful apps like Cardmobili. and Xbox Companion which lets me control my Xbox 360 from my handset. I’m more involved in what’s going on with my family on social networks on a daily basis, and I’m more on top of my e-mails than ever.

Tonight, I found some nice features that I felt worth blogging about. Recently my wife was involved in an RTA in our car (not her fault, and she wasn’t injured) but whilst the car’s at the body shop being repaired, they’ve given us a hire car… a ‘10 reg Megane with loads of extras.

I was pleased to see the compatibility with my Dell Venue Pro. A real bonus for business users/regular travellers. From pairing (which was easy). It offered to sync my phone book, and even share the pictures on my device. I found that it instantly knows when it’s connected to the bluetooth, and when I receive a text message it announces it over the car’s handsfree system, and allows me to voice command it to read it outloud, and even reply by voice. This is amazing.

As you might expect it allows me to play Spotify over bluetooth, via the car speakers too which makes for great music and no dodgy signal as you move between broadcasting regions.

The best part of all this, is that “it just works” – and anyone who knows me will know that I like systems (software, hardware, or both) that “just work” without requiring any technical knowledge or any great deal of work from the user. My Windows Phone and the in car sat nav/audio system in the Renault Megane fit nicely into this category.

Has anyone had this level of experience with other platforms? Voice command text messaging and everything? I know BlackBerry has ‘an app for that’ but does anything else have this functionality built in?

Posted: 31/01/2012 21:01:54 by Kurt Farrar | with 1 comments

My Mac when I bought it 3+ years ago was running OSX Leopard. During that time it's withstood 2 upgrades, the first to OSX Snow Leopard, and more recently to OSX Lion and it's still been going strong.

Although during that period, I've bought a new iMac for my more power hungry computing, benefiting from a more powerful graphics card, more storage, RAM and a nice big display, my MacBook in reality still gets used the more often. 

Throughout the 3 years, it's been used every morning and evening commute, and every evening and weekend. The batter life is still standing up, but over the last 6 months or so I've noticed it start to slow down a little, and I've been running low on free disk space. 

To attempt to deal with this I've bought a utility called CleanMyMac (from MacPaw). It's actually a really good utility, freeing up 79GB of space at my last count, and although my Mac did seem to speed up for a while, and have some more free space, I couldn't help thinking that after removing absolutely everything that I didn't need I was left with only 42GB of free space on a 150GB disk. So I thought it's time for a wipe and re-install. As I'm an ASP.NET developer, my development takes place on Windows (which I normally run in a VM on my iMac), so I thought it a good opportunity to install Windows 7 using Boot Camp. I pulled my original OSX Leopard disks out of the cupboard, blew the dusk off and expected to have to install from them. The instructions said to boot with the option key held to boot from the DVD, only when I did this I noticed a 'Recovery HD' partition. It's worth pointing out at this point that I've dual-booted my MacBook with Windows 7 before, so it was somewhat a surprise to see this partition as it wasn't there in the past. 

Anyway, curiosity and all that, I had to boot from this new Recovery HD partition. And a good job I did... it turns out that OSX Lion (as it's a downloadable upgrade) creates the partition and puts the necessary software there to be able to restore your computer in the event of a failure etc. Neat. Unfortunately, it does require that I download the entire OS installation all over again. So about 4 hours later and I had a nice clean install of OSX Lion on my MacBook and it was running as fast as the day I bought it. 

Now to install Windows 7... went with a few hiccups installing the BootCamp software/drivers within Windows 7 after I'd done the initial install, but nothing I couldn't get around. 

I started this on Saturday, and by Sunday evening, I had pretty much all of the software that I own, in both Windows 7 and OSX re-installed on my computer. After installing some updated for Windows 7, I shut-down to boot into OSX when it comes back on with a BEEP-BEEP-BEEP! BEEP-BEEP-BEEP! with the hard-drive light flashing in time with it. 

What could have happened to my Mac now? Unfortunately as it wouldn't boot, I couldn't jump on the internet to find the problem so easily. So, using an alternative device (in this case, my trusty Windows Phone 7 - had to get that in there!), I find that the problem is likely to be with some new RAM that I've installed... only I haven't installed any new RAM. I have been wanting to up the RAM in this thing from 2GB to 4GB (the max it'll take) for some time, but I got the new iMac instead of a cheap RAM upgrade. 

So anyway, for the first time since I got it, I took my MacBook apart. Battery cover off, battery out, hard disk out, bottom of the case off, and finally released both sticks of RAM. Both looked absolutely fine, so I tried putting one back in at a time and booting up... with 1 stick in, it powered on without the dreaded BEEP! I'd been hearing, so I put the second stick in, and tried again. BEEP-BEEP-BEEP! Argh! 

On the upside, the online posts in the Apple discussion forums were bang on, it was the RAM. Just so frustrated that it's encountered a problem without having had a jolt or anything of the sort. I've tried reseating it a number of times without any improvement. Oh well. 

After putting the MacBook back together, with only 1 stick of RAM in it, I've powered it up, and here I am now, writing from my ever so trusty MacBook. 

Pleasantly, my MacBook is still running faster than it was prior to be wiping it and reinstalling OSX Lion, so what's the point of upgrading you may be thinking. Well, as a web designer and web developer... a large portion of my work takes place in Adobe Fireworks, and Microsoft Visual Studio 2010. And running both of these separately tends to hog a fair amount of RAM. I don't think I'd have a pleasant experience running them with only 1GB though for the next few days while I wait for my RAM upgrade to arrive, I'll no doubt find out. 

I'm also quite pleased that the laptop has lasted me so long without any hardware problems. It comes with me everywhere, and I've never owned any other computer for so long. Usually I find that they don't perform as well as I expect, or encounter some sort of hardware problem. Even the best of laptops that I've owned (my Sony VAIO TR1MP) encountered a major hardware failure, and after waiting nearly 6 months for replacement parts from Sony, resulted in them giving me a full refund. I think the longest I've ever owned a computer (whether desktop or laptop) prior to this must have been 12 months, and I think that was a little Dell Studio computer that we used as our Windows Media Center powered home entertainment system - which to this day is still running fine (as far as I know) at my sister-in-law and her boyfriend's house as their primary PC. 

Anyone else had this particular problem? How long have you had the hardware on a computer that you're using a lot last you?
Posted: 08/01/2012 23:16:56 by Kurt Farrar | with 0 comments

Messenger problems

I've had a problem since I first setup my Windows Phone 7.5 that I couldn't get Messenger to connect, which also meant Facebook chat wouldn't work. Although I didn't have this feature, particularly built into the messages hub, on any of the other platforms I'd used, I still wanted to get it to work. 

Frustratingly, all of the help online from other people babbles on about "add your facebook account to your windows live account through" - Yes, my account is already linked, but I can't sign into messenger, nevermind facebook. You shouldn't have to have a facebook account linked to sign into Windows Live Messenger.

Further more, I couldn't sign into Windows Live Web Messenger! Taking Windows Phone 7.5 out of the equation, this had to be an account problem, not a problem with the phone.

I posted onto the Windows Live Messenger support forums, but didn't get an answer. So after a few days now, was determined to fix this myself. Others had warned me that signing in with the same account that I use for Office 365 as my Windows Live account would cause problems, I hadn't done that... so that's that ruled out. 

I investigated my account and noticed that I had my Windows Live ID linked to another, that other ID could sign into Web Messenger fine, so I wondered if that may have been the problem. Some sort of hand-off thing, my account designating my linked account as the messenger account or something? So I removed the link between the accounts. Still no good. 

Eventually decided to see if I can sign in with the desktop client (I hadn't tried that so far as I normally don't use Windows Live Messenger). When I signed in, it said my account had been updated and needed further action, with a link to a webpage of further information. 

Basically, since we setup Office 365, the Lync Onine portion claimed my domain name. So any Windows Live Passports ending could no longer use Windows Live Messenger. The only option if I wanted a Windows Live account, retaining my links to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and so on, as well as the calendar and contacts that I've built up over the years... was to change my Windows Live ID... sounds easy enough right? Well, yes... it was easy to change the ID on my account... but it was when I came back to my Windows Phone 7.5 that the difficulty started. 

Windows Phone detected that my account had changed and that I needed to do something, but id didn't give me the option to modify the account. Not a problem I thought, I'll remove the account, and re-add it. Not so simple! Turns out, the only way to remove the primary Windows Live account is a complete factory reset. 

Yes, my e-mails, contacts and calendar are all in the cloud so lets do this. A couple of taps and a few seconds later and I'm back to a clean phone. A few seconds more and my accounts are back on, but throughout there's no option to restore apps that I had previously installed. I had to remember which apps I had installed. Fortunately, installing apps is quick and fairly painless. 

So a reboot and re-setup later (roughly 1/2 hour) I'm back up and running, AND I have Windows Live Messenger working AND Facebook Chat. I've made use of the Windows Live Messenger to have a chat with my dad who lives in the next town. Making me more accessible, and making it easier for me to engage with friends and family. 

I think that the mssenger feature is fantastic, but I think that Microsoft have to make it easier to change the Windows Live ID on the phone without requiring a factory reset. I would imagine the thinking behind this was that if someone buys apps against ID 'a' then removes that account and adds ID 'b' then user 'b' isn't necessarily licensed to use the apps that they've bought. What I don't get though is that each Windows Live ID has a unique ID behind the scenes which is independent of your e-mail address/username. Why can't the phone keep a handle on that instead, and allow, or even automatically update, the e-mail address/username on the phone?

I think Apple win points here from the end-user's perspective. Apple allow multiple Apple IDs to be used with each device, and it checks the licensing when there are updates available. You can only get the updates if you sign in with the account that you purchased the app with. Furthermore, Apple allow you to change your Apple ID's e-mail address, password and everything without any real problem. If you bought using but later changed it to (not a new account, but a change to the e-mail/username on the same account) then it'll allow you to sign out with the old e-mail address, sign in with the new, and continue to receive the updates for the apps that you've previously bought. 

Don't get me wrong, I've had problems with Apple's IDs in the past, but not related to this, and I think that what theirs allows you to do in this instance is better. A little frustrating that I can't have both a Windows Live Messenger and Microsoft Lync user from the same domain at the same time (my scenario was - Windows Live Messenger and - Microsoft Lync). 

OK, I've posted this a little late, so there'll be another blog post later today to make up for it! :)
Posted: 17/12/2011 09:58:33 by Kurt Farrar | with 0 comments

OK, so I've been off work today (of a fashion) full of a cold. OK, so I ended up working pretty much my normal, but from the comfort and warmth of my bed. As my head is all bunged up, you'll have to forgive me if today's post isn't as long as the past few days.

E-mail conversations

Today I had the opportunity read/write some e-mails in a conversation in my inbox. By a conversation (if you don't already know) I mean a number of e-mails going back and forth grouped together. Anyone that uses GMail will be familiar with this format, and Microsoft have tried to replicated it in Outlook and Hotmail in the past, but it's never quite worked the same, or as well in those products. These examples however are where conversations are in use on the desktop/web browser. I've not seen any successful use of conversations on a mobile device, until now. 

The conversation view on Windows Phone 7.5 is just great. It shows the conversation as a header telling you, as a summary, how many e-mails are in the conversation and how many of them are unread. Tapping the header expands the conversation to show all messages in the conversation, from where you can tap a message to view it's contents. This is certainly missing from iOS and BBOS, and it was missing from Android early days (afterall they were missng a proper mobile e-mail client initially) but I don't now if this functionality exists on the Android platform now.


I've had an opportunity to play on some trial games on Windows Phone 7.5 today. I was intrigued by the level of integration with XBox Live, and XBox. Even to the degree of being able to control your XBox from your phone (with the use of an app). I spent a bit of time configuring an avatar which I intended to look like me, though I found myself spending far too much time on the eyes, and still not being happy with them. The games themself perform very well given the graphics level that they're running.

I'm sure I'll cover these in a little more detail as I buy some full games over the next few days/weeks.
Posted: 15/12/2011 22:34:02 by Kurt Farrar | with 2 comments

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