ailon's DevBlog: Development related stuff in my life

Windows Phone at MIX10: Cooling down the hype

3/26/2010 6:32:12 PM

I’ve just returned from my trip to MIX10 and a short vacation in California. Lots of info has been posted about MIX and Windows Phone and by much better writers than me, so there’s no need for me to recap everything.

I’ve attended Windows Phone 7 track of sessions at the conference (for the most part) and unfortunately everything that I’ve learned cooled my enthusiasm for WP7 down one step at a time. Here’s what’s wrong for me first as a consumer and then as developer.

Why I’m not as enthusiastic about WP7 as consumer after MIX10?

windows-phone-7-series-4

Sure enough everyone has heard about no copy/paste in R1. That’s sort of lame and I don’t even know what to think about this. I hope they just make up their mind before the release.

Then there’s no real multitasking. I understand Microsoft’s point about this and I’d be ok with it with one small exception – at the very least built-in music player should be perfect. And I’m pessimistic about this being the case. Minimum requirement I need is for player to be able to remember position in last played file (for podcasts and audiobooks) even if the phone was turned off. WMP in WinMo 6.x couldn’t do that. So I had to use 3rd party player for podcasts and audiobooks and it wouldn’t work in the background on WP7. Can anyone confirm or deny that audio player in WP7 can remember file position?

But the most problematic part is virtual keyboard. No one at the WP7 booth could tell me if it would be possible to add additional keyboard layouts (for other languages) in WP7. It’s not possible to do with standard keyboard on WM6 but I can install 3rd party SIPs. And I’m using PocketCM keyboard which let’s me create layouts for as many languages as I need. It was confirmed during one of the sessions that no 3rd party SIPs will be allowed on WP7. The guys at WP7 booth agreed that my scenario for needing more than one keyboard layout makes total sense but they had no idea if there’s a way to do that (so I guess there’s no). They took my business card and promised to get back to me with an answer but I have yet to hear from them and I’m not holding my breath. We agreed that the technology is obviously there and there are no technical limitations preventing from adding this feature but they are in a hurry and I guess this has a low priority in USA. <sarcasm>Having 2 pages on the keyboard completely dedicated to smileys obviously has a higher priority.</sarcasm> It looks good in the demos.

One more issue is marketplace-only installation of apps. Making a switch for advanced users (even something in the registry) allowing them to install 3rd party apps without marketplace would make lots of geeks happier while still controlling stability of consumer phones. And this would open the platform for corporate use too. Geeks are going to jail-break the phone anyway so why not make it legal and sort of controlled?

I’ve talked to Ueli Sonderegger (from Brazil) about other things and then he mentioned he was told that MS is going to release WP7 at the same time in Brazil as in US but in English. Now this is totally cool with me but for large non-English speaking countries this is like a blow in the face. I guess his reaction was as simple as “WTF!?” even though he didn’t say so.

I’m left with a feeling that even though Microsoft managed to create a unique and cool experience which is not just not-an-iPhone but actually looks and feels great, they’ve copied Apple’s bad practices on the business side almost 1:1. And that sucks!

I guess at this point my thinking is that I’m going to wait for WP7 vNext as a consumer. Or at least wait for it to be in the wild for some time and see how things turn out (you know XDA guys and stuff :). I was curious how HTC is going to sell HD2s after WP7 announcement but after MIX10 I think I know the answer – HD2 with WM6.5 and HTC Sense would be a superior phone at least for tech savvy users for some time after WP7 comes out.

What about the developer story?

Windows-Phone-7-series-Marketplace-hub-1

When they confirmed Silverlight and XNA as developer platforms for Windows Phone a week before MIX I was very enthusiastic. If they say that before MIX they must have some bombs up their sleeves for the MIX, right? Wrong!

Yes, the tools are free and great but that was even more expected than Silverlight being a first class citizen. Everything else I’ve learned made me like WP7 less not more.

The tragic part is that we in Lithuania (along with Latvia, Estonia and a hundred other countries) are not allowed to build WP7 apps at all. Yes, you read that right. Since users can only install apps through the marketplace and the list of countries allowed to sign-up as developers in marketplace is very short (30 countries as far as I remember), we can only develop WP7 apps as a programming exercise and on emulator only. Cause even if we get our hands on a real device in the future you can only unlock it for development by signing up as a developer and we can’t do that. I’ve presented this issue in front of John Bruno & Todd Biggs (my question and public part of the answer is around 55:35 mark) and this is what’s great about actually being at MIX. What I’ve been told off the air is that Lithuania is, as far as Todd remembers, in a bucket of next 20 countries they plan to cover around summer and they have them divided in easy-to-do and hard-to-do buckets and again as far as Todd remembers Lithuania is in the easy-to-do bucket but he wasn’t sure and there are technical, juridical and other issues. What I think is really the issue is the size of our country. We are in EU and our laws are aligned with EU. Most of our banks are owned by Scandinavian banks. We can get money from PayPal and at the very least Google can send us checks for AdSense cause they are lazy to implement a better way, etc. So again I think the issue is with prioritization by market importance and not anything else. But let’s hope this changes really soon and I’d like to think that me bringing my interest in development up will have something to do to accelerate our acceptance into marketplace.

Another issue is not-really-real Silverlight. Scott Guthrie said “It’s not Silverlight Lite. It’s not Siverlight Mobile. It’s Silverlight.” (or something very close to that). As it turned out it’s Silverlight 3 and not even completely the same Silverlight 3 as on the web/desktop. Silverlight 4 will be released in April and by the time WP7 is released judging by current Silverlight release pace there will be Silverlight 5 Beta. So you can call it real Silverlight 3 but actually it is Silverlight Mobile. There’s nothing wrong with that since it’s for developing phone apps and not for web apps (IE on WP7 wont support Silverlight at launch). It’s just not what’s being advertised.

Enough with ranting/whining!

In the end I’d like to state that I still like WP7 in general and I really wish and hope it succeeds but I guess by holiday season 2010 it will be something like iPhone 1.0 – cool but not usable yet. Let’s hope I’m wrong here or I hope my old HTC Touch can sustain another year or even two before WP7 becomes really appealing to me.

Shout it kick it on DotNetKicks.com

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Podcasts on Windows Mobile

5/27/2008 3:53:55 PM

Couple of years ago I had to walk 25-30 minutes to work. I listen to music while I work (can't work otherwise) so I was kind of tired of music to listen on the go too. That's when I discovered audiobooks.

But 2 years ago we've moved our office closer to my place and now I have to walk for 10-12 minutes only and that's too short for audiobooks. As far as I remember average book is about 600 minutes long so I would've had to listen to it for more than a month. So I stopped and walked in silence (read "city noise"). And I actually enjoyed it for some time.

Recently podcasts became really popular but I couldn't project the idea onto my daily routine. I can't listen to someone talking while programming and simply sitting staring at the wall listening to some podcast is ridiculous. But then an idea hit me that podcasts would be a nice replacement for my audiobook addiction.

The player - S2P

podcast_s2p I'm totally satisfied with HTC Audio Manager and/or Windows Media Player on my HTC Touch for occasional music listening. I never watch videos on my phone. So I didn't have any 3rd party players on my device. But podcasts/audibooks require at least one additional feature that neither Audio Manager nor WMP have - ability to resume your last played file from the same position. So I started a quest for the right player.

There is only one 3rd party player name that I had embedded in my head - CorePlayer. Based on feature set and recommendations this is considered the best media player for Windows Mobile. However it has way more features than I need (actually I needed a very tiny addition to WMP), costs $25 and there's no trial download. So I decided to look for alternatives.

Then I found PocketMusic Bundle ($20). It supports bookmarks which is most likely a more advanced version of what I needed. There's also a free version of PocketMusic (requires registration though) which I tried. There are no bookmarks in free version but options dialog has a checkbox labeled "Continue from last position on start". But either it doesn't work or I misunderstand it's purpose.

After looking at some other alternatives which had no mention of the feature I was after in their feature lists, I found S2P (pictured). The player looks nice (a bit rough around the edges and a little too inspired by iPhone though) and resumes from where it was closed.

So the quest is over for now.

Getting podcasts on your device

I've tried 2 apps to automatically download podcasts from their RSS feeds. One for desktop Windows - FeedStation. And one for Windows Mobile - HubDog. Both worked fine but I realized almost immediately that the nice thing about podcasts is that you don't have to listen to every episode of every show and so you definitely don't have to download every episode of every show.

So I ended up manually subscribing to RSS feeds in my RSS reader and downloading episodes I want manually. Then I created an automatic playlist in WMP11 based on "Podcast" genre and set up automatic synchronization of this playlist with my phone. Works like a charm.

Podcasts

Currently I'm catching up on only 2 shows:

  1. Hanselminutes by Scott Hanselman. Very nicely produced podcast mainly focusing on Windows and web development related issues with occasional forays in other areas. Episodes are 20-40 minutes long which I think is quite optimal size. I would say 25-30 minutes would be perfect for me (one day's walk to and from work)
  2. DotNetRocks with Carl Franklin and Richard Campbell. As the title implies it's focused on .NET and related stuff. The episodes are too long for my taste (usually a little longer than 1 hour) and the flow is not as good as Hanselman's but interesting and educational nevertheless.

I'm not looking for many more (since I have up to 25 minutes a day for podcasts) but once I finish with "back catalogs" of these two I think I'd like to add a couple more to this list. So, your recommendations are welcome and highly appreciated. Subjects I'm interested in (in no particular order): programming in general and web development in particular, windows mobile software, photography, popular culture (music, movies, books, etc.). So if you know a really good podcast along these lines, please, let me know.

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Twitter

5/12/2008 10:25:43 AM

twhirl-twitter I was contemplating about starting twitting for some time but lagging. Lately there were numerous post in the blogs I read on the subject and on Sunday morning I was wasting my time waiting for my wife to get ready to go and read this blog post by Rick Strahl. I had about half an hour to waste so I registered my Twitter account and the rest is history... Follow me on Twitter under ailon.

So, honey, you are the one to blame for the additional time I waste ;)

Language dilemma

I speak, read and write (more or less) in 3 languages all the time: Russian at home and with friends, Lithuanian at work and with other friends and English mostly for the technical stuff. So, deciding in which language to twitt is not an easy thing to do. I have 2 blogs: one in Russian for personal non-geeky stuff and this one in (crappy) English for technical stuff. Sometimes I have to decide to which blog (and in what language) to post about subject that border between the two (like the post on Parental Control) and that wastes additional brainpower.

But since twitting should be something less mind consuming I decided I don't want 2 separate twitter accounts. I'll twitt to one account mostly in English but switching to Russian or Lithuanian when I find it more appropriate.

Tools

There are so many Twitter clients that I definitely must write another one! (just kidding)

Windows

I had Adobe's AIR installed so I decided to try twhirl since it seems to be the most popular. It looks nice and works fine so far. However I plan to try Witty in solidarity with fellow .NET developers.

Windows Mobile

I've seen ceTwit popup several times in freewarepocketpc.net's RSS feed so I went and installed it and it seems to work just fine, too. I'd like to try Kevin Daly's Twitula too, but there's very limited information on it's page and I had no time yet to just download and try it.

Other

I also activated twitting through Jabber/GTalk/Miranda and tried to activate twitting by SMS but it doesn't seem to work for me for now. Anyone knows what's the catch?

So, start following me on twitter right now or else...

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Diarist 2

4/30/2008 5:26:53 PM

diarist I came across Diarist blogging application for Windows Mobile last year when I was still running my personal blog on LifeType. Unfortunately back then there was a problem posting using Diarist to my blog in Cyrillic. Kevin Daly (author of the Diarist) was very supportive and tried every possible way to solve that issue but unfortunately we were unable to solve it and I had to postpone blogging from my phone until the planned and delayed (due to my laziness) move to BlogEngine.NET.

Now I've moved to BE.NET and Yesterday I finally decided to try Diarist again. However there was a problem adding my blog to Diarist. It looked that there were some misunderstandings in the encoding department between the two. The most frustrating part was that I clearly remember that I tried Diarist with BE back in 2007 and it worked. Anyway I contacted Kevin and once again he was on it almost immediately.

Less than one day have passed and voila - new fixed version of Diarist is released!

Now, I provide support for a couple of projects (1, 2) and try to do it in a timely manner but Kevin's speed makes me blush.

Keep up the great work, Kevin and thank you very much!

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Fresh Reinstall of HTC Touch

3/19/2008 5:55:25 PM

I've upgraded my microSD card to 4GB and decided that this is a good time to reinstall my HTC Touch hopefully fixing some of mistakes I've made during the first 6 months I own it. This post is for my future references for the most part, so I don't have to invent the wheel if I need to do this again. But you are welcome to use this as a reference too.

  1. Hard Reset. Hard Reset on HTC Touch is performed by holding both Call and End buttons and pressing Reset with stylus (hold Call and End until you see a warning message). Details and pictures here. Follow the instructions on screen. Install WMDC/ActiveSync on your PC if you don't already have it.
  2. My Mobiler. My Mobiler is a great free software to control your Windows Mobile device from your PC. I don't use it much in everyday life but in cases like this when you install lots of things it makes life way easier.
  3. Alternative HTC Home Plugin. This is probably the only "hack" that I do. So I decided to do it first in case I screw everything up and have to start over.
    Default HTC Touch Home plugin includes only 3 tabs: home, weather and program launcher. I want to add quick dial and profiles to that. To do that I've used HTC Home Customizer (HHC).
  4. Hide SIM Contacts. In my experience SIM contacts interfere with "normal" phone contacts so I tend to hide them. To do that we need to edit the registry. I've used CeRegEditor for that but there are many registry editors out there that work quite well:
    1. Go to HKEY_CURRENT_USER\ControlPanel\Phone
    2. Create new DWORD key named ShowSim and value 0 to hide SIM contacts.
  5. WMDC setup. Windows Mobile Device Center (for Vista) is available on HTC's CD or as a download from Microsoft. I leave all details intact, except I uncheck email synchronization with Outlook (since I don't use it).
  6. PocketCM Keyboard and PocketCM Contast. Finger friendly virtual keyboard and contact manager.
  7. GPRS. For my operator (Bite) I just go to Settings->Connections->Add a new modem connection and specify access point name "wap". Nothing else.
  8. WiFi. Just enable WiFi and connect to my network. All default encryption parameters. Enter appropriate key.
  9. GMail. I check my GMail mailbox via IMAP using Pocket Outlook. Don't allow it to try to get the settings automatically. Here are important general settings for GMail via IMAP:
    • Incoming mail server: imap.gmail.com:993
    • Account type: IMAP4
    • Username: full email address
    • Outgoing (SMTP) mail server: smtp.gmail.com:587
    • Outgoing server requires authentication: checked
    • Use the same user name...: checked
    • Advanced server settings: require SSL for both incoming and outgoing email
    • Advanced download settings: When deleting messages - delete them off the server.
    • Message format: Plain Text
  10. Microsoft Office Mobile 6.1. I don't remember why would I want this update but I still install it. This time I wont make the same mistake of installing this into the device memory.
  11. eBook readers. I use CHM eBook Reader for my technical CHM ebooks and AlReader for my fiction (official site seems to be unavailable but download links are available here)
  12. Instant messaging. I don't chat much on my phone but I have Skype and mChat installed and configured just in case.
  13. ClearTemp. ClearTemp is a small utility to free your device from temporary files and other garbage in case you run out of space. It also lets you change your temp directories to memory card so you have more space to waste :)
  14. Bluetooth and GPS. I have an external GPS receiver of some Taiwanese brand I forgot :). The model name is HI-406BT. I don't have it with me today but here are the required settings for it to work:
    • In Bluetooth setting partner the devices and assign COM6 to the GPS receiver
    • In "External GPS" settings:
      • GPS program port: COM2
      • GPS hardware port: COM6
      • Baud rate: 4800
      • Access: Manage GPS automatically - checked
    • However in navigation software I've still used the COM6 so I don't actually know what are the generally correct settings and can't check now.

So basically this is it. That's what I want to have on my phone right away after the hard reset. Everything else can wait.

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Error? Yes/No

11/30/2007 11:50:34 AM

Today I tried upgrading Office Mobile in my phone to the new Microsoft Office Mobile 6.1. No matter what I tried I was presented with this very informative error message:

office61

Installer asked me: "Error?". Since I didn't see any reason for this very well explained error I answered "No" and installation failed. 3 times. Then I gave up and pressed "Yes" and all went smoothly from there and newly installed office even seems to be working fine.

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You Snooze, You Loose

10/13/2007 7:28:00 AM

It looks like someone has released almost exact "clone" of what was supposed to be my first Windows Mobile application. I'll have to come up with some other idea for practicing WM development.

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Windows Vista SideShow + Windows Mobile 6 = No Love

10/12/2007 10:42:04 AM

Sometimes I kind of don't understand Microsoft. Windows Vista was released like a year ago and Windows Mobile 6 was released this year and still there's no support for SideShow in WM6. And what is the first device that comes to mind as Vista PC companion device? If asked this question in the middle of the night I would immediately answer - PocketPC.

I would really like to have WMP "Now playing" information and controls on my HTC Touch docked next to my main monitor. And you can probably think of more useful applications.

Do divisions at Microsoft actually talk to each other?

kick it on DotNetKicks.com

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If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It

10/8/2007 11:01:54 AM

The telling is as true as ever. Update to Windows Mobile Device Center was hanging for some time in optional Windows Vista Updates on my computer and I finally decided to install it this weekend. Installation went smoothly but this morning I found out that my HTC Touch couldn't connect to computer or vice versa. And there was an error in Application Event Log saying: "Windows Mobile-based USB device is plugged in but is unable to make a network connection to the desktop."

I tried many things including rebooting both phone and computer, dropping the partnership, plugging device to a different port, enabling and disabling firewalls, etc. Finally I decided that it was about time to google. After several unhelpful links I found this thread in Microsoft's forums and this post in particular saying:

Settings - Connections - Usb to PC - uncheck the "Enable advanced network functionality".  Disconnect device and connect back up.  Recognized it immediately

I didn't even have to unplug the device. It was recognized immediately and everything (as far as I noticed) started working. No idea, though, what functionality I lost disabling that "advanced network functionality". Go figure...

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