AJ's blog

June 12, 2010

The Future (of) UI

Filed under: Software Architecture, Software Development — ajdotnet @ 3:54 pm

The way we think about user interaction – actually the user interfaces themselves – is changing. The iPhone seems to be the protagonist teaching us new ways to interact with phones and iPad even coins a new form factor driving this trend further. Touch and multi touch are becoming main stream because vendors have begun to create operating systems, UI metaphors, and backing services around these interaction principles – rather than slightly adjusting OSes/UIs build for conventional PCs with keyboard and mouse.

This is actually a defining feature of the next evolutionary step of UI, namely Natural User Interfaces (NUI). As wikipedia states…

A NUI relies on a user being able to carry out relatively natural motions, movements or gestures that they quickly discover control the computer application or manipulate the on-screen content. The most descriptive identifier of a NUI is the lack of a physical keyboard and/or mouse. (wikipedia)

While Apple seems to take the lead in public perception, Microsoft has a rather mixed lineup: With smart phones Windows Mobile 7 seems a bit like “taking the last chance”, even if the move to Silverlight as a platform is a bold one and (IMO) a good one. On the other hand they just managed to drop the very promising – by itself as well as positioned against the iPad – Courier project. As a colleague stated in your internal company blog: “I’m frustrated. Period.” And lastly Microsoft has Surface which has no competition I’m aware of at all (unless you want to build one yourself).

Surface is not only commercially available, it also adds the capability to detect objects placed on the table and thus goes beyond plain multi touch. And it is subject to further research, as this excerpt from PDC09 shows: (better quality here, at 83:00)

 

Looking Ahead

Well, this is kind of what we have today. If you would like to see where this might be heading, have a look at the Microsoft Gives Glimpse Into the Future talk Stephen Elop held early ‘09. It’s a 36 minutes video, but you may jump to 14:00 and watch the presentation of "Glimpse in the future". What’s presented there is impressive: Live translations enabling people talking with each other in different languages. Surface like tables interacting directly with iPad-like multi touch tablets placed on it. Minority Report like control. Augmented reality. …. It’s even more impressive since everything is backed afterwards by actually existing (if in early stages) technology. There’s a shortened and also an extended version available on youtube:

 

Speaking of Minority Report. Another great video comes from John Underkoffler; John has been the science adviser for that movie and he does the whole presentation with exactly that technology!

This talk is certainly worth watching, as he makes some very interesting observations (in fact, watching this video triggered this post; thanks Daniel). His final prediction is … ambitious: “I think in 5 years time, when you buy a computer, you’ll get this.”

Is that cool or what?

 

Second Thoughts 

Well, as they say:

“Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.” (various)

There’s one thing I don’t like about those predictions. They are (deliberately?) incomplete. They certainly shine in new fields of applications for computers, new degrees of collaboration, new ways of interaction. Like home integration, meeting areas with huge collaboration screens, geo services and augmented reality, or simply navigating and reshaping existing data. But in their aim to show new ways of doing things, they neglect the “old”, conventional demands, demands that won’t go away.

The very fact that these NUI approaches – touch, gestures, even voice – are defined by “the lack of a physical keyboard and/or mouse” (and in case you didn’t notice – NONE of the above videos hat a keyboard in it!) renders them inappropriate for a whole bunch of scenarios. Can you imagine a secretary typing on a virtual keyboard? A call center clerk waving at his screen while he talks to a customer? A banker shooing stock rates up and down? A programmer snipping his code into place? Cool as all that Minority Report and other stuff may seem, I have a hard time imagining anyone whose daily job today requires a keyboard to a substantial degree using some other “device” instead.

In the end we’ll probably see both. NUI approaches are going to spread, new devices targeted at different scenarios simply require different notions of user interaction. But they are not going to replace today’s conventional computers, they are going to be a complement, actually even a necessary one. Another necessary complement is the mutual integration with each other, the internet/cloud, and social platforms, but that’s a different story.

For us developers this will be the actual challenge: developing on conventional machines for devices and environments that have totally different ideas of how an application should look like and interact with its surroundings. Testing is going to be a bitch.

That’s all for now folks,
AJ.NET

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June 3, 2010

MCPD – Enterprise Application Developer 3.5

Filed under: .NET, .NET Framework, Software Developers, WCF — ajdotnet @ 4:43 pm

I finally managed to upgrade my MCPD/EA from .NET 2.0 to .NET 3.5. And since my last post on the topic is still requested relatively frequently, I thought an update might be due.

Again, I took the upgrade exams, but since they distinguish the topics pretty well (each topic is covered in a separated section during the questionnaire and has to be completed before moving on to the next), the assessments should be valid for single exams as well – even if the single exams may shift emphasis somewhat.

Logistics

The upgrade is available to those who have the MCPD/EA on .NET 2.0. (This implies that there is no direct upgrade from the older MCSD, sorry Daniel.)

There are two exams that cover the ground of 5 single exams:

  • Exam 70-568: UPGRADE: Transition your MCPD Enterprise Application Developer Skills to MCPD Enterprise Application Developer 3.5, Part 1
  • Exam 70-569: UPGRADE: Transition your MCPD Enterprise Application Developer Skills to MCPD Enterprise Application Developer 3.5, Part 2

You can learn more about these and other upgrades here.

Part 1 includes the following three parts and respective certifications:

  • Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist: .NET Framework 3.5, ADO.NET Applications
  • Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist: .NET Framework 3.5, ASP.NET Applications
  • Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist: .NET Framework 3.5, Windows Forms Applications

Part 2 adds another Technology Specialist part and the “Designing and Developing” part that concludes the MCPD:

  • Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist: .NET Framework 3.5, Windows Communication Foundation Applications
  • Designing and Developing Enterprise Applications Using the Microsoft .NET Framework 3.5

All of which concludes the “Microsoft Certified Professional Developer: Enterprise Application Developer 3.5”

More information about single exams is available here.

The Exam Parts

While the last upgrade included a major remapping of the certification scheme, this one is merely keeping up with technological changes. The single parts vary in the amount of change they have undergone and the degree to which they can be considered being up-to-date.

  • The ASP.NET part was no big surprise, containing additional questions for ASP.NET AJAX. I’ll call that “reasonably up-to-date”.
     
  • The WinForms part hasn’t really changed its content at all. Hardly surprising, since WinForms itself haven’t changed. What has changed with .NET 3.5 though, is the introduction of WPF, a whole new UI technology. WPF is completely missing from the 3.5 exams. Hence, seen as Windows development part, this can hardly be called up-to-date.
     
  • The ADO.NET part. Well. I would call that one “unreasonably up-to-date”. It is still mainly focused on DataSets in great detail. Now, I can understand that LINQ2SQL doesn’t qualify for an exam with ADO.NET Entity Framework around the corner. But still! DataSets have gone out-off-fashion even before LINQ2SQL and I really had to scratch some layers of dust from that knowledge.
     
  • The WCF Part is probably the most advanced. This used to be the “Building Services” exam, covering remoting and WSE, but those topics are completely gone. This exam is solely focused on WCF, and you have to have a solid understanding about hosting options, configuration, and security to pass this exam.
     
  • Designing and Developing hasn’t changed in style, but it incorporates current technologies. Unlike the respective other exams, it actually addresses WPF and ADO.NET Entity Framework as technology choices.

Generally speaking, each and every of these exam parts can be solved by people with reasonable experience in the topic. That should cover ASP.NET, WinForms, and “Designing and Developing” quite nicely. Whether you put ADO.NET in that bag is up to you, but dusting the DataSet knowledge shouldn’t be a showstopper anyway. The only part that is more demanding is the WCF part. Be aware that the questions cover WCF capabilities in general; having created one or the other WCF service or reference in Visual Studio and twisted the configuration somewhat is certainly not going to get you through this exam.

Looking Ahead

.NET 4.0 and Visual Studio 2010 have been released weeks ago and usually it takes Microsoft about a year to prepare the next increment of certifications. So the current 3.5 certification is going to stay valuable for quite some time. Still, a little crystal ball gazing might be fun:

In terms of technologies, .NET 4.0 does not only contain brand new stuff, but also incorporates some technologies that have been around for some time, but not formally part of the .NET Framework. Together with the gaps noted above we have the following list of suspects:

  • In the ADO.NET area:
    • LINQ 2 SQL (leaving it out so far may have been lack of time rather than a deliberate choice after all)
    • ADO.NET Entity Framework
  • In the ASP.NET area:
    • ASP.NET MVC
    • ASP.NET Dynamic Data
    • perhaps jQuery
  • In the Windows Development area:
    • WPF
    • Parallel Extensions (PLINQ, TPL)
  • In the Designing and Developing area:
    • Visual Studio Architecture features
    • Testing features

I do hope that we will see a substitution of content in the ADO.NET area. Please Microsoft, no more DataSets! And it wouldn’t be a surprise at all if Microsoft dropped WinForms in favor of WPF, adding a little parallel stuff. ASP.NET on the other hand will certainly grow, as ASP.NET WebForms are not substituted but complemented by the new additions. The new Visual Studio features may result in in just one or the other additional question. But then, they might not, as they are not universally available.

Anyway, this is reasonably manageable for those people trying to keep their certificates up-to-date. For people trying to get their first certification it certainly adds up; but then, they may start with Technology Specialist or the more specific MCPD certificates and build on that.

What parts didn’t I mention? Silverlight is obviously missing from the list. And don’t tell me, it’s not relevant for enterprise development, for it certainly is! But I still can live with that, for it isn’t formally part of the .NET Framework and you have to draw the line somewhere. The same applies to Team Foundation Server.

On the other hand, how can you call yourself a certified “Enterprise Application Developer”, not knowing about TFS or Silverlight?

That’s all for now folks,
AJ.NET

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