Palringo – I don’t understand the name let alone the concept…

Palringo – I don’t understand the name let alone the concept…

I saw this post across on the Modaco feed referencing a product called Palringo and despite a number of comments to the effect that it is a cool product I just don’t get it.  So last weekend I was talking about the Skype Challenge (more on that later) in which I was trying to use Skype to replace my phone service; this product seems to just be another IM product with a bit of voice thrown in for good measure.  In fact the only thing I see going for it is that it is going to be supported on a number of platforms, they are even about to release betas for the symbian/Java platform.

RikReader, now with SQL Server Compact Edition

RikReader, now with SQL Server Compact Edition

Doug has just announced that version 1.4 of RikReader is now available for download/update.  Now if you have a previous version installed the process is a little more complex that previous upgrades but apparently this has to do with the fact that the underlying database is now SQL Server Compact Edition.

For those who aren’t familiar with RikReader it is one of the best feed readers that I’ve seen that sits on top of the Feed Store introduced with Vista/IE7.  Written in WPF (as all good apps should be) means that you get that nice newspaper style reading or you can flip to a single article view. 

Warning: At this stage if you have a lot of feeds (say 200+) RikReader might appear to perform really badly.  When you first start up RikReader it goes through a process of syncing the feed store with the additional information it tracks in the SQL Server CE database.  As you can imagine this takes quite a while the very first time you load the application.  I would highly recommend leaving the application until the “pulsing circle” (lower left corner of the app) goes away and then start using the app. 

You would think that doing this type of synchronisation should be done on a background thread, which it is.  However, apparently all calls to the RSS API needs to be done on the UI thread – perhaps the team responsible for this can answer to why this is necessary?

Update: After talking with Doug this appears to be a thread affinity issue based on the nature of the RSS API calls – I’m sure he’ll be updating the reader to tweak this to improve perf and usability.

The way Back with Ajax

The way Back with Ajax

Across on the Ajaxian blog they have a link to the work Andrew Mattie has been doing to address one of the biggest problems with Ajax – the way it effectively breaks the browser’s back button.  Having never really jumped on the Ajax bandwagon I only realise this is a problem based on the numerous sessions I sat through and the frustration experienced when using an Ajax enabled site that doesn’t work with the Back button.  Anyhow, hopefully the work Andrew has done will help to reduce this problem

Where Photography meets the Ocean

Where Photography meets the Ocean

Recently a close friend of mine started his own website and a blog entitled the Weekend Warrior.  In his latest venture Hugh spent the weekend over at Rottnest checking out the surf.

Hugh takes some unreal photos and has all the gear to take professional photos of surfing and other water sports.  Can’t wait to get back into kite surfing so I can appear in the weekend warrior!

Long live Windows Mobile 2003 SE!

Long live Windows Mobile 2003 SE!

In a flash back to a couple of years ago I decided to find my old Dell Axim X30 and see whether it was up to the job.  I seemed to recall trying one of the early Skype Pocket PC clients back on one of the old HP iPaq devices so I guess I wasn’t surprised that Skype have a version of their client that works on this device.  When you download the client the file name includes “LowCPU” which I guess implies that this version is designed for a low power CPU and that there is a high CPU version (although given battery life is a major concern I’m not sure I would ever go with this verison).

The experience is actually quite good, audio quality seems to be reasonable and there was almost no lag. You may need to alter the microphone gain (Start->Settings->System tab->Microphone) and you may need to enable the echo cancellation option in the Skype Settings.

You will notice that I discovered how you can use the skinning feature in Pocket Controller to give you that professional look during presentations and demos (they have skins for virtual every device I could think of).  Pocket Controller is also able to connect via a network connection (which is more than can be said for ActiveStinkSync.

In the last of these screen shots you will see that there is an “Echo/Sound Test Service” item in the history.  This is a contact that appears in your contacts list when you run Skype on the device and enables you to place a call, record yourself talk and hear it played back – if you think about it this really tests most features of placing a call!

Yes, I’m almost free of my mobile phone.  Bring on the Skype Challenge

Usage logging

Usage logging

Joseph has a great breakdown (in a similar vein to Google Analytics) of usage statistics of his application Thoughtex.  I wonder whether he is interesting in redistributing the usage logging class library.  Everytime I build another utility or tool I often consider collecting this type of information but the cost to develop often outweighs the cost of developing the tool itself.

Usage tracking is an important part of the usability design cycle.  There is currently a huge amount of emphasis placed on the importance of the user interface but how do you really quantify how usable an application is. Without tracking usage you really have no idea how your application is being used. 

[Intilecta] has invested heavily in building an integrated framework into our application that enables users to monitor their own usage, team leaders to track aggregate usage and admins track overall usage.  This is important as the application is designed to be continually improved based on user feedback/usage!

More Skype Challengers

More Skype Challengers

If I’d bother to do a Google search before announcing the Skype Challenge I would have noticed that Nicholas Wolfgang over at Bios_Level had already laid down the challenge.  Funnily enough he invested in the Belkin device and has documented a number of challenges that he has faced along the way.  The number one issue seems to be (surprise, surprise) battery life.  Anyone who has used a Window Mobile device on a wireless network will know that it is hard to get through an entire day without recharging.

Skype WiFi phones – WTF?

Skype WiFi phones – WTF?

Phase 1 of my Skype Challenge is almost complete – I handed back the i-mate SPL I was borrowing so I’m now without a Windows Mobile device (I still have my SIM card in an old Esicsson phone until I get around to sorting out my voicemail etc).

I must admit I’ve been having some issues selecting the right tool for the job:

  • Skype WiFi Phones – These come with Skype preinstalled and are unnecessarily expensive.  For the price of one of these you could get a standard Windows Mobile Pocket PC and put the skype client on it – much more functionality for minimal cost difference.  The other issue is that most of them don’t support browser based authentication for wireless access.  This is significant as most non-free wireless networks (and even some of the free ones) require you to login via the browser. This is a classic WTF where the manufacturers (Linksys, Belkin, Netgear etc) clearly haven’t thought about their target market!
  • Smartphone – Too expensive as I don’t need phone connectivity.  Also a lot of them don’t have wireless which doesn’t make them a very good Skype device!
  • Pocket PC – This is where I’m leaning as it has the rich user experience of a typical Windows Mobile device, including touch screen, has wireless connection and is not too expensive. 
  • UMPC – Now you might be asking why this fits in here as it isn’t particularly convenient as a phone.  But when you add in a bluetooth headset it all of a sudden becomes the ultime communications tool.  Not only do you have a skype phone with you all the time, you also have all the applications and functionality that you have come to expect with a regular desktop/laptop computer.  Perhaps I should be talking with the newest edition to the GottaBeMobile Team, Hugo Ortega

For the moment I think I’ll go back to looking for my old Dell X30 Pocket PC device that I can use until my K-Jam returns.

The Skype Challenge

The Skype Challenge

This morning I was flipping through the Sunday Times (for the most part this paper is little more than an abstract collection of ads with a bit of sports trivia appended to the end) and noticed a Post-it note attached to the front of the paper:

 I thought that the previous person had left this behind (I was in a Cafe!) but then I noticed the other copies also had this note on the front.  Flipping to page 20 I saw that this was an Iinet ad:

I had to smile at the creative form of advertisement – after all, it’s a big job to stick notes to the thousands of papers that get produced each Sunday, plus the cost for the full page ad.  On the way back home the contents of the note got me thinking even more: Do I really need a phone service any more? 

To answer this question is looked at what I currently have/use for both my work and personal life:


  • Landline @ home: I only have this so that I can get ADSL at home (I then have a wireless network that allows me to roam around the house).  All phone calls are made using my mobile and/or skype.

  • Mobile: I use this so that “regular” people can get hold of me.  By this I mean that anyone who knows my mobile number can use the standard phone infrastructure to call me.

  • Skype: I have a SkypeIn number that I use infrequently but is useful if I need to talk to someone for an extended period as they don’t have to pay mobile charges.


  • Skype: Although the Wellington office has a landline, this is again only really used for the ADSL connection.  The Perth annex uses Skype almost exclusively to stay in contact with the rest of the team – this generally includes an hour or two on skype!

As you can see I’m already moving towards using Skype for more of my communication needs.  Lets break this down even further and look at how I could alter this arrangement to free my self of any phone providers:

  • Making Calls: This part of the challenge has already been solved.  Skype offers the ability to not only call people who are on Skype it also has the SkypeOut service which you can use to call both landlines and mobile phones.  They are consistently improving line quality, reducing lags and reducing the cost of calls.  In fact dialing any landline in the US is already free!

  • Receiving Calls: Skype has also addressed this issue with the introduction of the SkypeIn service.  The awesome thing about this service is that with a single Skype account you can have multiple SkypeIn numbers that mean people only ever have to dial a local number to call you.

  • Sending SMS: Skype not only allows you to send SMS (using your Skype credits) to any mobile phone worldwide, it also allows you to configure the sending number so that the messages appear to come from your mobile number.

  • Receiving SMS: Ok, this part of the equation Skype hasn’t solved AFAIK.  In order to receive SMS it has to be sent to a mobile phone and whilst you can configure Skype to send messages from a certain number, you can’t configure it to intercept messages to that number.

  • VoiceMail: If you are away from your computer or not logged in, Skype is able to take a message and notify you of the missed call via their Voicemail service.

Looking through this list there is only really one feature that I don’t get through Skype which is the ability to receive SMS.  I must admit I’m not really an SMS person – never really did get the hang of typing t9 text – so I might be willing to go without until Skype sorts this one out.

Of course the other feature that isn’t in that list is Mobility, which is what my mobile phone gives me.  If you think about this, do you really want to be contactable all the time?  At work (yes), At home (yes), At a restaurant (no), In town shopping (maybe), At the beach (maybe). 

yes: Lets work with the yes answers for the moment, now I have wireless at home and work and Skype is available for both my computer and my k-Jam.  I could also invest in a wireless skype phone which would mean I wouldn’t need an expensive mobile operator dependent device.

no: Well this isn’t an issue since I don’t want to be contacted anyhow

maybe: When I’m shopping in the Perth CBD I could make use of the MetroMesh (and there are equivalent wireless networks being setup in a lot of major cities around the world) or I could just make use of free wireless services in cafe’s such as Tiger Tiger.  The beach, parks and other places are a little harder as they don’t typically offer wireless coverage.  For the purpose of this discussion lets assume that in these places we are happy to be disconnected – we will of course get notified of any missed calls and messages when we get back into coverage (sounds like a time before good mobile coverage was the norm)

The Skype Challenge

The purpose of the Skype Challenge is to question our dependency on phone service providers and seeks to put pressure on them to step up to the challenge by offering us compelling reasons to stay connected (some telcos have preempted this challenge – take BT’s SDK which enables developers to build applications that take advantage of their rich infrastructure).

The Skype challenge is

  • To go an entire month without using either a landline* or a mobile phone** to make or receive phone calls. 

  • You have to make all calls via Skype

  • You can’t accept calls, unless they come via Skype

  • You can’t send/receive SMS, unless they go through Skype

*Use of ADSL via a landline connection is acceptable – over time more ISPs will start to offer ADSL packages that include the cost of connection so it is only a matter of time before this dependency goes away.
**If your mobile phone is a pda with Skype installed and wireless capabilities then it is acceptable to use it to make Skype calls and send Skype SMS messages ONLY.  You can use other functions on your mobile phone such as the camera, voice recorder etc so long as they don’t use phone provider functionality (eg GPRS).

My Commitment (Updated)

I have just purchased a Belkin WiFi Skype phone.  When this arrives Unfortunately none of the WiFi phones that I’ve looked at support connecting to a wireless network that requires browser based authentication. On Monday I’m going to follow up with Linksys as they have a WiFi phone that their website claims runs Windows Mobile – which means that browser based authentication should be ok and it should be able to run Skype for Window Mobile.

If the WiFi phone option doesn’t work I’m going to use my K-Jam (minus SIM card) for making/receiving skype calls when not at my computer. Regardless I’m going to turn off my mobile phone (leaving a voice message giving my SkypeIn number) and attempt to go an entire month as per the rules of the Skype Challenge outlined above!

Over the month I will blog about my progress so that we can sort out any technical issues/frustrations.

EVERYONE: I challenge you to take up the Skype Challenge and go a whole month without using a landline or mobile phone!

[Added] Skype Challenge Lite

I know that the Skype Challenge is unrealistic for some of us that don’t use Skype as their primary form of communication at work.  To this end I’ve added the Skype Challenge Lite which means you have to use Skype for your personal life.  Where possible you should attempt to use Skype to make/receive all work calls, but since a number of organisations don’t support the use of Skype and/or Messenger in the workplace it is permittable for you to use a landline and/or mobile while at work.

Skype Find and More

Skype Find and More

Yesterday I downloaded the latest version of Skype (the next version talks about being able to invite non-Skype contacts, which would be very cool – unfortunately it is only in beta and VERY unstable).  Instead of going with the standard options I decided that I would install the Internet Explorer Addin.  Not knowing quite what to expect I was quite impressed when phone numbers started appearing with a Skype border and with options to enable me to call them directly:

 The other function that might be quite useful in the future is SkypeFind.  This appears as a separate tab within the Skype client and allows you to search for recommendations based on keywords.  For example I might want to search for Coffee in Wellington.

I noticed that Mauricio has already added in the Astoria, which is where he holds his weekly coffee.  I did a similar search for Perth and was disappointed that neither Tiger Tiger or Cimbalino were in there – so I added them 😉

When an Extension method isn’t an Extension method

When an Extension method isn’t an Extension method

I thought that Bill was going to post this as he was the one who pointed it out to me but I guess he was “busy” looking at the latest from Microsoft Marketing.  Anyhow, in a nut shell the VB team have made a very questionable decision when it comes to Extension methods:

In this example I have a custom collection, say MyCollection and I also have an Extension method defined as DoFunkySutff(collection as MyCollection).  How would this look in intellisense?

When I write instanceOfMyCollection. I would be prompted with a list of methods, including the extension method DoFunkyStuff() – Note that the collection argument is NOT listed as the compiler is doing the translation from instance to extension method by placing the instanceOfMyCollection as the first argument to the call to the static DoFunkyStuff method.

Ok, so what happens if I had a method defined on MyCollection which has the same name (and signature), ie DoFunkyStuff(). Well the intellisense experience is going to be the same – It’s going to be hard to distinguish between the two types of calls!

The story gets worse: What happens if this method has a different signature, eg DoFunkyStuff(i as integer). Here the C# and VB.NET stories diverge.  In C# you would get both DoFunkyStuff(), the extension method, and DoFunkyStuff(i as integer) in the intellisense list.  However, in VB.NET you will only get DoFunkyStuff(i as integer).  Basically this is a result of VB.NET using shadowing by name v’s shadowing by name and signature (the correct way!!) which C# is using.

To make matters even worse (both languages): What happens if I have two imports that define the same extension methods for the same class – Compile error!!!  And you can’t even use Aliasing to get around it.  Clearly there is still work to be done to resolve these issues.

Imagine Cup gets the Developer Touch

Imagine Cup gets the Developer Touch

Across at International Developer there is an article that discusses the Imagine Cup competition that Microsoft runs annually.  I’m even quoted!

I gather that round 1 entries have now closed for the Australia arm of the competition which means that all the teams are now busy beavering away preparing for the national final.  Good luck to the teams and if there is one word of advice I could give – take Readify up on their offer of a mentoring service!

Feeds, Feeds and more Feeds – Content Found

Feeds, Feeds and more Feeds – Content Found

I typically scan well over 250 feeds a day! Yep that’s right I’m an addict – actually I don’t normally get beyond the Perth Bloggers network (which I have as the feed in [VS2005]) and most of the Australia Microsoft DPE team.  Anyhow today I was glad that I spent the time scanning for interesting content because I came across this great little post by Anna Liu which points to a video on YouTube that shows an innovative user interface for the next generation of mobile devices. 

Unlike the disappointing attempt of Deepfish to provide a usable experience for pocket pc devices this interface seems like it has actually been tailored for these devices.  I had to laugh though because in 2004 at the Imagine Cup finals in Brazil we saw an interface that would make these guys drool.  The concept behind the application itself was to provide a guide for people walking around a museum but the menu system these guys had come up with was second to none.  They had worked on the spin out menu concept where you start with a minimal dial in the middle of the screen, select an item which then spins out a new dial.  As you progressively select items new dials appear; if you want to go up a level you click the centre.  These guys had made it entirely customisable and the menu itself was all images (rather than simple text) so it looked unbelievable.  I just wish I could get in contact with these guys!

Occasionally Connected Application is NOT about Working Offline

Occasionally Connected Application is NOT about Working Offline

For almost as long as I’ve been working with .NET I have been an advocate for building rich client applications (aka smart client applications) that work in an occasionally connected manner – think Outlook cached mode.  Recently there have been a couple of posts such as “You’re not on a f^&king plane (and if you are, it doesn’t matter)!” and “The Mile High Club: 37signals, [email protected]#k yeahs, and productivity stock-art” that talk about the current trend of people talking about providing caching/offline capabilities to their web applications.  IMHO they all miss the point.  Building web applications that will work offline is NOT the solution – you need to build rich client applications that are DESGINED to work offline.

Ok, so let me explain:  The basic premise of building occasionally connected applications is that you work on the assumption that the application WILL be offline.  To enable this you work with a local datastore (assuming a real world application that works with some sort of data) and you build an rich application that doesn’t require any network access.  You then need to consider how the data is going to be synchronised to the local datastore (again, assuming a real world application where you want the data to be kept in a central repository).  This can be done using technologies such as Merge Replication, RDA, MS Sync Services but essentially this is a separate concern to building the application itself.

So, why is this better than just coding an application that will continue to work when I pull the network cable out?  Well it all comes down to usability – according to Microsoft we are in the Age of User Experience (which IMHO is rubbish, just because Microsoft has entered the design application market does NOT mean that we have only just started to think about usability – more on that later).  Usability of web applications has a fundamental problem in that it relies on request-response model back to the web server.  Even with the best implementation of Ajax you are still likely to experience delays, refreshes etc that lead to a poor user experience.  On the converse a rich client application “should” have smooth usability with no wait times between screens.  I know which one I would prefer!

Finally, back to my point about the Age of User Experience; Despite two iterations of the .NET Framework WinForms essentially hasn’t changed since the old C/VB days.  A lot of companies have invested heavily on extending forms and controls to make their applications look good.  Of course there were always challenges making the application responsive – you could introduce multiple threads to load data, but then you ended up debugging locking issues etc. 

Now with the Windows Presentation Foundation we have a much rich (or so they keep claiming) framework with which to build applications.  I must admit the applications I have seen to date have all looked great, but they nearly all diverge from using standard menus or having a familiar look and feel – tell me how this is suppose to empower users?

Whilst WPF is a significant improvement when it comes to building rich client applications there is still a long way to go before “usable” and “applications” become synonymous!

Deepfish rocks on Smartphone!

Deepfish rocks on Smartphone!

In my previous post I wasn’t that positive about the new mobile browser, Deepfish, that Microsoft Research have been working on.  This morning I decided to give it another shot, this time on the i-mate SPL device.  The first problem I encountered was that you can’t install both the Pocket PC and Smartphone versions on the same desktop.  I suspect (hope) as this product reaches RTM this will be resolved into a single download and installer. 

Once installed I was literally amazed with how easy Deepfish is to use.  To give you an idea I thought that I would grab Pocket Controller and take some screenshots.  BTW this is the first time I’ve really used Pocket Controller (Dave Glover swears by this product) and the whole experience has been great -> Installation, Connection and working with the device.

 Integration into Programs (an improvement over the PocketPC version)


Website in fullscreen

Pressing Enter displays the Zoom selector which can be controlled using the cursor pad -> very intuitive, unlike the Pocket PC equivalent

After zooming – The Cuemap shows where on the page you are.  Again the cursor pad can be used to navigate around the screen.

Pressing Enter again turns on navigation mode – links are highlighted and a small arrow appears over the link.  Again the cursor pad allows you to roam through links in the current view (pressing Back goes back to scrolling mode)

C# v’s VB.NET v’s others

C# v’s VB.NET v’s others

This sounds like I’m trying to start a food-fight.  In fact, courtesy of Steve, Development Manager here at [Intilecta], I thought I’d share an interesting article that talks about the Language V’s Tool divide (Full article available here).  Just as an aside, the author of this article seems to be involved with the OpenLaszlo project which strikes me as “just another web technology” (it might ease the pain of doing web development but it won’t make it go away….)

Ok, so back onto the topic of this post – the article points out that if you have $100 to spend on improving a language you have to choose between spending money on improving the language itself (thus increasing the power and efficiency with which developers can write code) or tool support (which can also improve the efficiency of the developer).  Try as you might you are not a magician and you can’t make $100 into $200 and thus be able to do both. 

Now apply this logic to the C# v’s VB.NET debate and the decisions the teams make about priorities.  Clearly with C#’s background in C, C++, Java and other languages there has always been a strong focus here on extending the language.  That said, with [VS2005] C# made considerable improvements around intellisense and refactoring. 

On the converse VB.NET has always been the leader when it comes to tool support for the language.  Whilst the language did get most of the features of C# (such as generics, nullable types etc) there were a few things which were left out -> iterators and anonymous methods to name just two.  So where did the VB.NET team spend their $100 – the My Namespace?  Agreed My does provide significant savings when it comes to doing common task but I must admit I was sorely disappointed that the VB.NET team decided not to give us feature parity w.r.t. the language.  Further more our complaints seem to be going unnoticed with iterators and anonymous methods still missing the cut for the Orcas release.

The argument keeps coming out from Microsoft that they need to differentiate the two languages to justify the cost of maintaining two languages, compilers etc.  Quite frankly I think this is a silly response and that if this is their primary concern, then they should just get on with it and axe one of the languages. This would not only free up resources to be more innovative it would also stop this continual need for developers wasting valuable resources deciding which language to code in (after all if we only had feature parity there would be no discussion….)

i-mate SPL

i-mate SPL

While I was in the UK last month I decided to find a replacement phone for Meg, who has been using a Smartphone 2 for the last couple of years. After much consideration of all the new devices on the market I decided to go for the i-mate SPL.  At the moment this runs Windows Mobile 5 but I’m hoping that since it is such a recent phone (like it hasn’t even been released here in Australia yet) that we might see an upgrade path to Windows Mobile 6.  Regardless, I don’t think not having an upgrade will really phase Meg.

Anyhow after a week or so of tracking the package using the Expansys and DHL websites it eventually arrived today.  My first impressions are that it is a slim and lightweight as I was hoping.  Here are just a few screenshots:

The i-mate SPL Top and Bottom

Screen and Camera

USB port (open) and Wriststrap connection point

 USB port (closed) with Photo Button, and Sound Controls

Microphone (in the base) and the Sound Controls

Now we’re talking – Inside and the SIM tray

Other than taking me a while to work out how to turn the keylock on (which by the way you can do by holding down the home button) my first couple of hours with this device have been a real pleasure.  I must admit I’m not really a Smartphone kinda guy but I might consider using this device for a short while (at least until my K-Jam comes back from its road trip to the US).

Visual Studio vNext (aka "Orcas")

Visual Studio vNext (aka "Orcas")

I’ve started trawling the web for any information I can get about the next version of Visual Studio.  As you can guess, it’s about time for me to start considering the next version of [VS2005] (clearly with a bit of a name change!).  Anyhow here are a couple of posts I just came across the outline some of the new features:

  • Team Foundation Server (TFS) Roadmap

  • Occasionally Connected Systems Designer

  • Visual Studio Team System Roadmap

  • Visual Studio Orcas Overview

  • Visual Studio Orcas Features List (not a full list I might add looking at the features for device developers versus what is already available in the March CTP)

Authentication with Windows Live Id Client 1.0 SDK

Authentication with Windows Live Id Client 1.0 SDK

I just noticed that you can download the Alpha (interestingly they use that instead of the usual “Community Tech Preview”) release of the Windows Live Id Client 1.0 SDK.  This comes with documentation and a simple application that demonstrates authenticating using your Live credentials. Scott’s got a great article on getting started with the SDK.

Across on the forum there have already been questions raised about whether this can be used to authentication for websites and on mobile devices.  My burning question is whether they have planned to support occasionally connected applications?  What happens when my connection fails – does it log off immediately? do I need to log in again? Can I logon when I’m offline (assuming I’ve previous logged on using this computer in the same way as the operating system)?