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Jun 4 14

The Business Drivers of the Modern Application – Part 1: What is a Modern Application?

by Mikhail Shir

Over the next several weeks, we are going to explore the key business drivers behind the Modern Application through a series of blog articles.  This post is Part 1 in a series.

The software development landscape has changed dramatically over the past decade.  Disruptive technologies and design approaches have introduced entirely new types of applications and ways to build them.  The Modern Application captures a snapshot of best practices across multiple disciplines.  These practices are not static and will continue to evolve just as our understanding of customer needs and development platforms evolves.

The Modern Application is user centric.  It enables users to interact with information and people anywhere on any device.  It scales resiliently and adapts to its environment.  It is designed, architected and developed using modern frameworks, patterns and methodologies.  It is beautiful in its user experience as well as its technical implementation.

There are three pillars of modern applications:

  • Experience.  The experience pillar focuses on ensuring a great user experience.  In order to ensure a great experience, the application must be responsive, must be designed around how the user wants to work and must fit cohesively into the application ecosystem.
  • Architecture.  The architecture pillar focuses on ensuring that the application is built using modern development techniques to create scalable, secure and resilient applications.
  • Process.  The process pillar focuses on how software development teams are engaging with their business partners and customers to build applications.

These three modern application pillars work in conjunction to support the company’s business strategy.

The past decade has seen an increasingly knowledgeable and demanding technology consumer.  Exposure to rapidly evolving, personalized offerings such as smart phones and social networking has elevated consumer expectations and awareness.

Consumers not only bring heightened demands with them to every product that they buy for themselves, but they also bring those expectations with them to the office every day and exert pressure on their IT staff to meet those needs.

Successful IT organizations have evolved their technologies, design and methodologies to support increasingly savvy consumers.  These blogs will explore how the democratization of technology and information is transforming the workplace and how modern organizations are responding to meet their needs across the pillars of modern applications.

They will focus on aspects of three pillars of modern applications, with the business drivers broken out as follows:

Experience

Architecture

Process

  • Engagement

Join us next week for the first of the business drivers – Design.

May 21 14

Four BlueMetal Speakers at SPFest NYC 6/18 – 6/20

by sadalit

 

Four speakers from BlueMetal will present six topics at SPFest NYC, ranging across power user, business intelligence, and developer tracks.

The event will be held June 18-20 at the Javitz Convention Center in Manhattan.

Bob German will present:

Panelist: KEY 200 – Expert  Panel Discussion: Bridging the SharePoint Gap: On-Prem vs. Online vs. Hybrid – Friday 6/20, 8:40 – 9:50 am

DEV 102 – Future-Proof your SharePoint Customizations: Build 2010 Solutions that become 2013 Apps - Thursday 6/19, 11:20 am

DEV 203 – Developing SharePoint Applications with MVC and Entity Framework – Friday 6/20, 1:30 pm

Becky Isserman will present:

DEV 104 – iOS Development with SharePoint using Xamarin – Thursday 6/19, 3:00 pm

DEV 204 – Office 365 Development: Sandbox Solutions vs. Apps – Friday 6/20, 3:20 pm

Dan Segan will present:

BI 203 – SharePoint Data Visualization with HighCharts, D3, and Processing.js – Friday 6/20, 1:30 pm

Randy Simmons will present:

PWR 105 – Spreadsheet Management, Control and Risk Assessment in Office and SharePoint 2013 – Thursday 6/19, 4:20 pm

See pricing and registration information here.

Use the table below to build your schedule!

THURSDAY JUNE   19, 2014
11:20 – 12:30 Bob DEV 102 – Future-Proof your SharePoint Customizations: Build 2010 Solutions that become 2013 Apps
3:00 – 4:10 Becky DEV 104 – iOS Development with   SharePoint using Xamarin
4:20 – 5:30 Randy PWR 105 – Spreadsheet   Management, Control and Risk Assessment in Office and SharePoint 2013
FRIDAY JUNE   20, 2014
8:40 – 9:50 Bob Panelist: KEY 200 – Expert Panel Discussion: Bridging the SharePoint Gap: On-Prem vs. Online vs. Hybrid
1:30 – 2:40 Dan BI 203 – SharePoint Data   Visualization with HighCharts, D3, and Processing.js
1:30 – 2:40 Bob DEV 203 – Developing   SharePoint Applications with MVC and Entity Framework
3:20 – 4:30 Becky DEV 204 – Office 365   Development: Sandbox Solutions vs. Apps
May 5 14

Jonathan Ralton to present “Taming Your Taxonomy in SharePoint” at BASPUG 5/21/14

by sadalit

Jonathan Ralton will present “Taming Your Taxonomy in SharePoint” at the Boston Area SharePoint User Group on Wednesday, May 21, 2014.  [note:  date changed from 5/14/14]

Location:  Microsoft New England Research and Development Center – One Memorial Drive, Cambridge, MA.

Time:  6-8 pm

Register Here

Session Abstract:
​SharePoint offers extensive opportunity for flexibility in the storage and retrieval of your information and documents. Whether you are planning for a small team-based collaboration site or a department-wide portal, the value of taking the time to chart your course before you start diving into site settings and configuring views on your libraries and lists is inarguable. SharePoint offers you an arsenal of constructs to tame your disorganized data: lists, libraries, columns, site columns, content types, enterprise content types, managed metadata… Thinking these through properly at the outset will help you craft a solid foundation to build upon now and in the future. The additional capabilities introduced in SharePoint 2013 around managed metadata such as extended properties, pinning, and hashtags give you even more options to consider in crafting your taxonomy.

Apr 30 14

The secret to delivery – location, location, location

by James Horgan

Recently, BlueMetal was selected as a finalist for a best UX – product award at MITX, an esteemed network of technology marketers. This was for a large scale data visualization wallboard produced for the energy monitoring company EnerNOC.

What’s really impressive about this experience is we went from this:

Screen Shot 2014-04-30 at 11.26.28 AM

to this:

after1

in under 8 weeks.  Most of our clients and colleagues are astounded by this result and have many questions:

  • Which process did we use: Agile or Waterfall?
  • How many iterations?
  • When did the data architect come on board?

The answer is very simple – we put the team (a UX lead, a data architect, a UI engineer, an animator and a visual designer) all in one room, on site where the wallboard was being installed.

We used parallel streams of work to ensure design was aligned with architecture and that communication between the team was constant and consistent. Due to proximity with the client, the team was able to rapidly problem-solve on the fly. This became crucial as visual design and data got closer together.

There was a classic waterfall process but compressed: Discover, Define and Design, or as we call it: BlueSky, BluePrint and BlueMetal.

During BlueSky, interviews allowed the designer to sketch out the experience quickly, and the developers were part of that brainstorming. This allowed both the UI engineer and data architect to understand the scope of requirements, course-correcting as the design became more established.

With BluePrint we whiteboarded every piece of data that needed to be displayed on the wallboard in a single brainstorming session. Both the client and project team were part of this and a firm agreement was put in place that the brainstorming could not be considered complete until we were all in agreement on every piece of functionality. Drawing this line in the sand created intense focus and a rapid approach to design.

Finally during the BlueMetal stage (Design and Build) we ran separate streams of visual design, UI framework and data architecture, working side by side to not only converge on a rapid prototype but to iteratively create a solid high quality final deliverable.

The key to success on intense projects like this involves rapidly solving problems together, and a lot has to do with location.  By ensuring everyone was sitting side by side, every team member got equal accountability on the success or failure of the project, driving the team forward to ensure a favorable result.

An example is shown below of how location affects team dynamics.

workingtogether 

Though both team members are looking at the same screen, they are looking for different things. The visual designer on the left is looking at the readability of the typeface, the colors presented and the meaningfulness of what’s being shown. At the same time, the data architect is looking to see how the live data is feeding into interface and can not only troubleshoot, but work with the designer if the type size doesn’t work with the amount of characters the data is expected to pull in. Similarly, on the live file that both developers and designers worked on in WPF (Windows Presentation Format), designers used styleguide marking to indicate to the UI engineer how to adhere to the style, but also allowed the engineer to communicate in the same design language if certain parameters were not working.

usingstyleguides

Another simple example is the need for world clocks (shown below), something we observed was needed in the 24/7 work environment of EnerNOC. By having a cohesive team, the creation, placement, styling and implementation of the clocks was something we could easily do within a very short time span.

worldclocks

This type of constant communication, rapid problem solving and parallel streams of work can only happen when your team is in the same room, and you should always decide on WHERE your team delivers before you decide on HOW.

theteam

Apr 26 14

Jonathan Ralton to present “Taming Your Taxonomy” at SharePoint Saturday Durham, 5/3

by sadalit

Jon Ralton will present “Taming Your Taxonomy” at SharePoint Saturday Durham on Saturday, May 3 2014.

The event will take place at Durham Technical Community College, Phail Wynn Student Center, 1637 East Lawson St. Durham, NC 27703.

Click here to register!

 

Apr 24 14

Keep Calm and InfoPath On

by Jonathan Ralton

[Cross-posted from blog.jonralton.net]

A lot of hype was created around the announcement by the Microsoft Office team of InfoPath’s end-of-life announcement (blog post) by Microsoft back in January, accentuated by the ‘InfoPath Funeral’ held at the SharePoint Conference in March. For those following InfoPath’s progress over the past few years, or lack thereof, this was not shocking news. We didn’t see any new features in the latest release of the InfoPath 2013 client nor InfoPath Forms Services for SharePoint 2013, and we watched the product team at Microsoft disband. What are we to do? Where do we go from here?

Grieving the Loss

InfoPath was conceived over 10 years ago, introduced as part of Office 2003. Over three subsequent releases and incremental server-side integration with SharePoint via InfoPath Forms Services, we can rightly feel some emptiness and bewilderment at what to do. While users are unlikely going through the full-blown five stages of grief, we do indeed need to recognize that we’ve begun a journey of moving on from our faithful XML-jockeying forms application.

Not Quite Dead Yet

Considering we were met with complete disappointment during SPC12 having been offered not a single session on InfoPath, I will concede the fun of a funeral procession through the exhibit hall this year at SPC14. Attendees carried a ‘coffin’ for InfoPath and chanted “Bring out your dead!” akin to the scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. I actually think this movie reference is even more appropriate than some thought–just like the old man who wasn’t quite dead yet (video), I’d like to remind ourselves that InfoPath is still alive and well.

Don’t Panic

Microsoft’s announcement of the discontinuation of InfoPath is not an obituary. The product is still a healthy breathing component of the SharePoint ecosystem, and by the time the burial occurs, today’s elementary school students will be making their way through college. Let’s take a deep breath… OK? Life as we know it will continue for the near future. Our forms didn’t all of a sudden stop working. Someone didn’t cut the cord. Just as all Office products do, InfoPath will enjoy its full 10 years of support according to the Microsoft Support Lifecycle Policy. The plug won’t be pulled until April 11, 2023 (notice). As revealed to us at SPC14, SharePoint’s next on-premise release in 2015 will include continued support for InfoPath Forms Services, and SharePoint Online will maintain similar support until further notice.

Let’s Be Prudent

Just because those kids aren’t going to land in college for 10 years, we’ll still start saving up now for those hefty bills. You wouldn’t put off formulating a plan for their future success now, and similarly we of course shouldn’t just kick back and ignore the news we’ve been given. So what shape should our actions take over the next year? I think it depends on where your organization is in its development lifecycle around business process management and the forms that facilitate those processes.

Reviewing What We Know

As emphasized throughout SPC14, and specifically in the session SPC348 – Update on InfoPath and SharePoint Forms, Microsoft is clearly pushing us to rally around what they’re referring to as Contextual Process Apps. The idea is that our business processes should be connected just as we, the information workers, are. We need to make available the hooks into these processes wherever our users choose to be and however they choose to connect. What makes up this concept?

  1. Awareness
    Users need to be aware of relevant data where and when it is relevant to them without having to sift through too much noise.
  2. Capture and Output
    Getting data into our desired formats should be easy, thus putting it in motion through the process as soon as possible.
  3. Analysis
    Value should be created from all of our process data, thus getting users to interact with it. We should be able to utilize telemetry from the process to better understand what users are doing and continuously monitor and improve the process.
  4. Collaboration
    At this point we are very used to our collaborative tools to create content. This paradigm should continue while we’re within a process.
  5. Business Process Management
    A balance must be struck between effectively managing the steps of an activity while maintaining versatility and flexibility for the user.

How will Contextual Process Apps manifest themselves in the Office Forms product roadmap? For the moment… Microsoft has outlined four options that are available to examine now and some that are still being formulated:

20140404_office-forms-product-roadmap

Source: SPC348 – Update on InfoPath and SharePoint Forms (Deck)

  1. Excel Surveys
  2. List Forms (FoSL – Forms on SharePoint Lists)
  3. Structured Document
  4. App Forms

Two of these forms creation options for SharePoint 2013 have been around for a while. Also, keep in mind that further choices include…

  • HTML5/JavaScript Forms
  • ASPX Forms
  • Visual Studio

Much discussion has already ensued around the facets of the roadmap; there are advantages to each as well as recognizable absences of feature sets that will need to be addressed as the formulation of the Office Forms strategy progresses.

We were also had our attention directed to some alternative options to consider for an organization’s business process management needs, namely those of Microsoft partners providing products and services in this space:

20140404_sharepoint-forms-partners

Source: SPC348 – Update on InfoPath and SharePoint Forms (Deck)

These four are by far not the only players in this arena; they just happened to be present at SPC14. For example, during Q&A for the session, an attendee brought up Forms 7, a InfoPath alternative for SharePoint forms made available as a CodePlex solution.

Maintaining Existing Forms – My Advice

  • Should you take down your existing InfoPath forms?
    No. Nothing will break; these will continue to function.
  • Should you abandon any further updates to your InfoPath forms?
    No. You and your organization have already invested hours and resources in standing up these forms. The incremental evolution of updates to the interface, data, or workflow behind the forms will continue to provide value to your users. You already have overall InfoPath expertise as well as direct experience with these particular forms. There is no reason to abandon all of that; continue to build on that foundation you’ve invested so much in already.
  • Should you attempt to convert your existing InfoPath forms and processes?
    In my opinion, no, not yet. Wait until there is further clarity and direction out of the process underway by Microsoft’s Office Forms initiative unless you are making a near-term strategic decision to abandon whatever pure SharePoint-based forms technologies in the future for a partner/proprietary technology. Keep in mind–even the partners don’t know yet what will be made available as the roadmap proceeds. Down the road, decisions Microsoft makes in this space may impact the way you feel about your decision to go with a proprietary toolset. Don’t make the jump out of panic and uncertainty. Make it because of a compelling reason to leverage what a partner is able to offer you that InfoPath and current Contextual Process Apps cannot. Choosing to go with a partner at this point doesn’t completely insulate your organization from the changes that are coming. The road isn’t paved yet, and all of the on-ramps haven’t even been mapped out yet.

Developing New Forms – My Advice

  • Should you start using what’s available now?
    Yes! By all means… Start using Excel Surveys and App Forms, if they are appropriate to your information capture and user experience needs. These two options, of course, will not be sufficient for all situations
  • Should you just wait to implement new forms and processes?
    In my opinion, it is not going to be completely wasted effort to develop new forms and processes involving InfoPath. Unless you’re going to embark on a severely expensive effort over multiple fiscal quarters developing highly specific tweaks and hacks to bend InfoPath into a strategic mission-critical business process, I don’t see any problem solving your next business process problem with InfoPath. And besides my arguments around taming the hype and relying on sound supported functionality that isn’t disappearing, here’s why… The time and effort you and your organization expend on mapping the business process, discovering and validating requirements, considering and refining usability concerns, and all the activities around a basic BPM forms project–this will all need to be done regardless of the technology that is used for construction, and this work will be reusable when it comes time to consider conversion down the road. Weigh these advances in process improvement against waiting to make any changes to your workflows; the costs in lost productivity of paper-based processes; the frustration and low user sentiment resulting from ill-conceived ad-hoc solutions; the risk in relying on unsupported antiquated software crawling along as a critically weak link in a Tier 1 system. These are all challenges us IT professionals continually encounter and work towards overcoming with SharePoint-based solutions. This is not the time to stick our heads in the sand and wait it out. Go forth with your business analysts and do your valuable work! An upcoming technical hurdle shouldn’t derail all progress on solving business problems with today’s technology at hand.

Unprecedented Solicitation

This is indeed the start of a journey. We were not presented with a fully baked replacement for InfoPath, and this may rightly be an incredible disappointment for some of us. However, we have been presented with a completely unprecedented opportunity by Microsoft. They want us to tell them what we want. It sound so simple and logical, but this is new for us. While in many other areas we get pokes and prods to think in a certain way (blog post) and adopt what’s put on the table, we’ve instead been given a menu with featured entrees being concocted by executive chefs… with plenty of room on the menu to suggest our own selections. Go ahead, taste what’s been plated, and send your honest compliments and critical assessments back to the kitchen. The time to speak up is now, and myself along with the Office Forms team at Microsoft are all hoping you will via the Microsoft Office Forms vNext User Voice. Decisions are made by those who show up, people.

In Conclusion

InfoPath and InfoPath Forms Services are still viable and quite powerful components of a living, breathing, time-tested, and fully supported BPM toolset. Don’t give in to the hype around InfoPath’s demise. Instead, embrace the dynamic nature of this interim period and take stock of what you’re doing with these tools. Examine what’s been presented by Microsoft for review, try them out, and by all means participate in the discussion around what you and your organization would like to see from the next offering of Office Forms. Don’t go into mourning. Continue utilizing our tried and true InfoPath and seize the moment to help shape truly great successor applications!

Apr 21 14

BlueMetal sponsoring and speaking at SQL Saturday Chicago, 4/26

by sadalit

BlueMetal is a proud sponsor of SQL Saturday Chicago on 4/26/14.   SQLSaturday is a training event for SQL Server professionals and those wanting to learn about SQL Server.

The event will take place at 1221 N Swift Road, Addison, IL, 60101.  Doors open at 7:45 am for registration and check-in.  The keynote begins at 8:30 am and the event closes around 5:00 pm.

Ted Krueger will present SSIS – the DBA Multiplier.

Bill Lescher will present Fast and Flexible with Better Database Design.

Click here to register!

Apr 13 14

Bob German to speak at Microsoft Life Sciences Partner Workshop on the Cloud and the Future of SharePoint

by sadalit

Bob German will present at the Microsoft Life Sciences Partner Workshop on the Cloud and the Future of SharePoint, April 16 in Malvern, PA.  He will present “Developing future-focused solutions on premises” from 9 am – 12 pm.

During this two-day workshop the Microsoft Life Sciences team, in collaboration with the Malvern MTC and BlueMetal Architects, will detail their view of compliance and the cloud and how Office 365 and Windows Azure are ideally and uniquely suited for addressing many of the life sciences needs and requirements from across R&D, Clinical Trials, Sales and Marketing, and Patient Engagement.  They will also discuss the new the Cloud Application Model and how to take the next steps to drive industry solutions to the cloud.
Topics will include:
-         Market assessment and opportunity overview
-         Key messaging from the 2014 SharePoint Conference
-         The future vision for SharePoint
-         Latest innovations in Office 365, Yammer and SharePoint
-         Cloud App Model and building future proof solutions

Tuesday, April 15th – 10:00 AM to 5PM
Wednesday April 16th 2014 9:00 AM– 3:00 PM

To Register please email paultys@microsoft.com.

Apr 8 14

“Your Fans are Waiting” – Microsoft’s Build Conference – Day 1

by Dave Davis

[Cross-posted from blog.davemdavis.net]

build2014_devconferenceI am recently attended Microsoft’s Developer’s Conference, Build 2014.  When I have attended conferences in the past, I have usually blogged about all the great announcements throughout the conference.  As I sit here, at the beginning of Day 3, I have not written about a single announcement.  I decided to change up how I report on the conference. This time around I am going to give my two cents on different announcements made.  There are plenty of articles that list the many announcements made. In future posts, I will dig deeper into different topics.

Windows Phone 8.1 – Long Live Silverlight

One of the biggest announcements was the next version of Microsoft’s phone operating system, Windows Phone 8.1.  This release caps the “Blue” series of products that started with Windows 8.1.  For the last couple of years, Microsoft has talked about operating system convergence. Their goal is to have one operating system core run across all devices and to have a common API to code across them.  With Windows Phone 8.1, they are one step closer to reaching that goal.

Windows Phone 8.1 is basically WindowsRT with a phone app and a Silverlight emulator – or at least that is how I think about it.  With this leap Microsoft has reached 90% convergence with Windows 8.1 and Phone 8.1.  You can now write phone apps using the same WinRT API and Xaml as modern apps (more on that later). You can also continue to write phone apps using Silverlight, so your past investments on the phone platform are not lost. In fact Microsoft has advanced the phone Silverlight to 8.1 and allows developers writing apps in Silverlight to access the same functionality as a Windows Xaml (that is what they call the new app paradigm) phone app.

A lot of great new features are coming in the next release and you can read about them on the Windows Phone site. Overall I am impressed with what Microsoft has done with the phone.  Some of these features should have been there from the beginning and are catch up, and some are innovative and can’t be found on other platforms. This new version will be available to all devices running Windows Phone 8 later this summer.  A developer preview will be available the beginning of April.

Cortanaimage

Cortana is a fictional artificially intelligent (AI) character in the Halo video game series. ~Wikipedia

With Window Phone 8.1, Microsoft has introduced the world to Cortana. If you play Halo this is a reintroduction – Cortana is Master Chief’s AI assistant in the game. As with Master Chief, Cortana is a personal assistant for the masses. Cortana is part Apple Siri and part Google Now.

Microsoft interviewed real personal assistants to learn what is needed to provide a personal assistant experiences. The key point they heard over and over again is the Notebook.  This book contains all the personal information that allows the assistant to be productive. Cortana has a notebook where your personal information is stored for analysis. The key thing to remember is that the user is in control of what information to provide.  The more they provide the better Cortana can help. Remember it is all about context.

One of the differences between Siri and Now and with Cortana is that Microsoft has allowed developers to integrate their applications with Cortana. For instance a user can say “Facebook Find Jane Doe.” Cortana will pass that “Find Jane Doe” to the Facebook application.  Then Facebook can handle what to do with the information passed.

There were a few devices available at Build to play with. Microsoft is releasing Cortana as beta.  They are saying that her voice algorithms are still being trained.  The more they are used the better they will become.  I had fairly good success with the recognition, and the functionality that I tried worked pretty well. If Cortana is half as good as they advertise she will surpass the capability of Siri and be on par with Google Now.  Only time will tell how Cortana will do.  Currently Cortana is only available on the Phone but it is not hard to imagine that she will be coming to Windows devices and Xbox’s in the future.

Windows 8 Update 1

image

Microsoft is also updating Windows 8.1 with Update 1. This update brings some more enhancements for mouse and keyboard users.  The three main updates include, right click context menus on the start screen, title bars in modern application, and pinning modern applications to the task bar.  These small steps should help make the experience better for non-touch devices.

The update will be available for free for all Windows 8.1 users and will be required for user to continue getting Windows update. The Update will be generally available with the April Patch Tuesday (April 8).  Microsoft provided the update to attendees. I have been using since day 1 of the conference.  It is okay, I don’t have an opinion one way or another.  I have been using Windows 8 since the first developer preview and have adapted to it nicely.  Some people seem to like this update. If it makes you more productive then great.

Microsoft did not call this “Update 1,” they just called it Update.  There was a rumor that they were going to talk about the next version of Windows. They did not explicitly say “Windows 9 will be…” but they did hint at a few pieces that are coming, potentially in an Update later this year or vNext.  The Start Menu is coming back…with tiles, and modern apps will be windowed. More to come so stay tuned.

Universal Apps

imageOne of the key points of Day 1 is “convergence’’.  Carrying that theme forward, Microsoft announced Universal Apps.  As of Visual Studio Update 2, developer will be able to create Universal Apps.  What does that mean?  Since Windows Phone 8.1 and Windows 8.1 have 90% convergence of APIs, including Xaml, it makes sense that you will want to create applications that reuse as much code as possible.

You can currently do that with Portable class libraries (PCL) or shared files. Each of these are still possible. Universal apps have behaviors of PCL but are implemented like shared files.  Think shared files with better tooling. Universal apps have a shared project that contains no reference, only files. The shared files live here.  Since there may be times when you will need to access an API that isn’t part of that convergence you can use conditional compilation.  That tells me that the shared files care complied for each project and not as a PCL dll.

So now you can maximize code reuse.  There is so much more you can do with Universal Apps.  I hope to write about these in the future. Currently Universal Apps support is available for Windows and Windows Phone, using C#/VB/C++ and HTML/JavaScript. They did demo a Xbox Universal App that isn’t currently available but it makes sense since Xbox runs on Windows 8.  There were sessions that covered developing Universal Apps for Xbox so it is coming. We will soon be able to realize the “Three Screens and a Cloud” theme from many years ago!

Touch Office

The week before build Microsoft announced Office for iPad. These are touch-first variations of the worlds most popular productivity suite. Windows Tablet users have had office on their devices since the beginning but not the touch enabled ones.  These were the full blown versions.  At Build Microsoft showed off the Touch Enabled Office (to be released later this year).  We have known that they have been working on these apps for a while.  They did show off PowerPoint last year at Build 2013. What they did announce was that the Windows versions are being built as Universal Apps, so the functionality you get on Windows will also be available on the Phone.

Free Windows

There is no surprise that Windows 8 has not taken off.  They were late to the game.  Apple and Google have the market share when it comes to mobile. Bringing Office to the iPad first shows that Microsoft has shifted from a Windows-first company to a mobile-first company.  That is yet another theme that continued throughout the conference. There were more demos using iPads and Android devices than in any other Microsoft conference combined.

iOS devices tend to be geared toward the high end users; as such Android has been able to chip away at Apples market share with low end devices.  In order to be more competitive, Microsoft is making Windows 8.1 free for 9” devices and small to include phones. They seem to be geared towards making more money from services than from operating systems. This makes sense since people don’t upgrade OS’s often but they do renew useful services. In fact, in order to use all the features of Office for the iPad, the user has to have an Office 365 account. Services are the future.

Day 1 Keynote

The Day 1 Keynote ended with Stephen Elop marking three new Windows Phones that won’t be available until later this year and not in the US. And with Satya Nadella delivering pre-canned answers to pre-canned questions, delivering the same talking points that he has been handing out since he took over. If I sound sarcastic it is because I am.  The keynote was 3 hours long with Elop and Nadella taking about an hour.  Three hours in an uncomfortable chair in a crowed room will make people a little antsy.  Next time keep it around 2 hours and have the CEO play more of an active roll.

That aside I think that Day 1 delivered a lot of good stuff.  It shows that Microsoft is moving in the right direction, even to the point of being innovative. It seems the days of complete secrecy are coming to an end. They not only showed off what is here but what is coming in the near future.   I still have a lot of sessions that I want to see to really understand what was announced, but overall I am happier with this year’s Build than I was with the last one.

In the next post I will cover Day 2 keynote and give you My Two Cents.

Apr 7 14

Tablet Apps for Healthcare Providers

by John Pelak

In a recent blog posting, Jennifer Bresnick quoted Microsoft’s Peter Han’s thoughts on what mobile EHR users look for in a tablet – it’s an interesting read.

At BlueMetal, we build lots of tablet applications on lots of platforms (including Windows 8, iOS, and Android), and are especially interested in helping healthcare providers improve patient care via careful application of mobile technologies.  In reading Peter’s thoughts, it’s clear that he’s identified many of the non-functional requirements we’ve heard echoed by many of our clients across industry verticals (e.g. long battery life, pocket-sized form factors.)  But he also put his finger on some healthcare provider-focused features (e.g., cleanliness/cleanability), which are key to mass adoption.

I worked for a couple of years with a team that built clinical applications on early slate computers for a healthcare group based in Boston, and I was often surprised by what providers cited as critical app features versus those they felt were unimportant.  In response to an email question I sent about tablet usage in clinical settings, an ER doctor responded “when you can provide a device that fits in my pocket and enables me to respond to this message while standing in the middle of the ER without my having to support my arms, then you’ll have something I think will be useful.”

We’re fortunate to be here at a time when such devices are readily available.   There’s so much we can do with devices that can capture typed, written, spoken, and video input, which can also securely store, upload, and download data. It’s now up to us to provide applications worth (and worthy of) using in these settings.  If you’re interested, we’d be glad to discuss – thanks.