Archive for October, 2008

The biggest change in Office 2007 was the new Ribbon based UI.  That Ribbon is loved by many and loathed by some.   According to the data I saw from Microsoft the Office Ribbon has a high satisfaction factor among Office 2007 adopters.


Trend Setter

What was the first thing that happened when Microsoft released Office 2007 with this strange new Ribbon?  Well for one thing users floundered about trying to locate their favorite tools. The other major side effect was UI envy.   Seems like a lot of companies wanted a Ribbon clone for their applications.  This is where it gets tricky however.  Microsoft requires you to sign a license if you use the Ribbon UI in your app. Even if you build your own Ribbon from scratch it is expected that you will sign this license.  Read more on the troubles with the Ribbon license here.

New Ribbons APIs from Microsoft

This week at PDC 2008 Microsoft showed two new Ribbons.  The first one, is part of the Windows 7 OS.  I appears to based on a COM  API.  Since it is part of the OS it we should start to see more and more Ribbons appearing in application. Take a look at the WordPad and MSPaint screenshots.

WordPad in Windows 7

The WPF team announced a release of a new Ribbon control.  This Ribbon has a managed API and is customizable and skinnable.   It is available on the CodePlex site.


There is a great article from Microsoft delineating guidelines for good Ribbon UI.



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Dinner with Dr. WPF

Tonight was the WPF Disciples dinner at PDC 2008. An evening of wonderful food and drink at Morton’s Steakhouse in downtown Los Angeles.  But it wasn’t a normal dinner.  No gathering can be considered normal when Dr. WPF shows up.


The  good doctor deliberately shrouds himself in mystery, perhaps because he  is a little mad from his years working with pixels and sub-atomic particles.  Perhaps mad isn’t the best word to use.  Let’s just say that he’s a touch eccentric.  He makes it very clear that his identity must never be revealed to anyone. In return for his anonymity he promises to plumb the depths of WPF and share his hard won knowledge with the world.

I arrived at the steak house a few minutes early.  I was escorted to the back of the restaurant a few minutes later. Getting into the private dining room was an ordeal.  After producing my ID I was subjected to a scanning with a security wand that hummed ominously and gave off a a faint toxic green glow.   Next I had to answer a seventeen question quiz on WPF internals and write some sample code demonstrating my grasp of custom attached properties. Finally I was given my badge and lab smock for the evening and escorted to the private dining room.

Once in the room Josh Smith called me over to a corner and confided to me in a hushed tone about Dr. WPF’s obsession with odd numbers.   This became apparent later in the evening when the waiter tried to place two dinner forks at each each place setting. Dr. WPF summoned one of his minions over.   After a whispered conversion the waiter was instructed to provide three forks at each plate.

There’s more to the tale, but I’ll let some of the other WPF disciples provide their view.

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I just walked out of a demo session with Josh Smith.  Josh was gracious enough to show Mike Brown and me his new Crack.net tool.  A very impressive first release.

A runtime debugging and scripting tool that gives you access to the internals of a WPF or Windows Forms application


With Crack.net you can use IronPython scripts to manipulate the internals of the cracked application.  Highly recommended.

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Every few years the computer industry discovers a technology that dramatically improves our computing experience.  Here’s a few  technologies that have fundamentally changed the way you and I work with our computers.  Add your own candidates in the comments.

  • Wireless
  • Graphics User Interface
  • Mouse input
  • Laptop form factor
  • RSS
  • LCD Flat Screens
  • Networks
  • Internet

Multi-touch everywhere

Here is my pick for the next big thing in computers. Multi-touch.

One thing stands out here at PDC 2008.  Everywhere you look there are multi- touch displays and applications.  The Microsoft Surface team has deployed Surface machines throughout the convention center. Every Surface is surrounded by throngs of attendees playing with the units.

There is a 42-inch plasma touch screen on display in the vendor area. Impressive!

Windows Mobile 7 has multi-touch devices.

Windows 7 will have full support for multi-touch. Microsoft spent five minutes during the keynote showing off the Windows 7 multi-touch capabilities of the next OS.

Windows 7 MultiTouch

The Surface SDK talk yesterday was standing room only.

There are more talks on the agenda this week expanding on these topics.

Other companies and multi-touch

Apple iPhones are a superb example of a small device that implements a multi-touch interface.  HP is producing multi-touch monitors.  Autodesk is adding multi-touch support for some of their modeling tools.


Try using one of the multi-touch devices.  It’s seductive.  It feels natural and it is fun to use.  You instantly view your current laptop as a broken boring brick.  Try it yourself.  You’ll see.

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Silverlight 2 released a few weeks ago.  There were a few controls that were missing from the release however.  Microsoft didn’t forget about these controls, instead they worked on them out of band and released them as a CodePlex project.  This is becoming a common pattern in the development of frameworks at Microsoft.  The CodePlex projects eventually get merged into a future release.  Here is what Microsoft has to say about this pattern.

We use an iterative, evolutionary development model to release new controls and updates often and get feedback from the community to our development team quickly. With access to source code, unit tests and the infrastructure magic we use internally, the community can let us know what it likes and what it wants to change. Anyone can download the source code and start exploring. This transparency will allow the community to help us prioritize features based on real-world usage and actual customer scenarios. We also want to make it easy to reuse skills and source code which is why all our components are designed with Windows Presentation Foundation in mind and the Silverlight Toolkit is released under the Microsoft Public License.

Learn more  http://www.codeplex.com/Silverlight


The Silverlight Toolkit is a collection of Silverlight controls, components and utilities made available outside the normal Silverlight release cycle. It adds new functionality quickly for designers and developers, and provides the community an efficient way to help shape product development by contributing ideas and bug reports. This first release includes full source code, unit tests, samples and documentation for 12 new controls covering charting, styling, layout, and user input.

  • Charting
  • Treeview
  • DockPanel
  • WrapPanel
  • ViewBox
  • Expander
  • AutoComplete
  • numericupdown

All Source code is available.  You are granted a license to use the controls, edit and extend the source code.

Controls Example

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The WPF ribbon control is finally public.  The ribbon control is easy to add to your WPF application.  It allows you to add your own custom panels and controls.  It has native support for the WPF Page journal, adding back and forward buttons to the ribbon and ensuring that they just work with your page structure

The ribbon is fully skinnable and supports templates and styles.

It ships the last week of October 2008 in a CTP release.

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Windows 7 – VHD changes

Announced at PDC 2008

The Virtual Drive support in Windows 7 has some nice enhancements.  There is now built in support for mounting existing VHD’s.  You can create a new fixed or dynamic VHD from the drive control panel.  My favorite feature?   You can mount a VHD at boot time and then boot to the image.  Imagine creating a test install of Windows 7 on a VHD.  Boot to the test VHD, not your normal desktop and work with system.  On the next boot you can continue to work on this VHD or perform a rollback to the original VHD image.

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