Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Windows Store apps ecosystem

It’s been pretty exciting lately with all the announcements from Microsoft. Windows 8 finally came out, we saw the Surface tablet and other some really cool devices, and today Windows Phone 8 was announced to hit the stores in a few days.

I’ve been using Windows 8 since the developer preview and of course it takes some time to get used to it, but if you think about it, and you actually DON’T think too hard about it, Windows 7 keyboard shortcuts work as expected on Windows 8. So if you’re a keyboard wiz, you will have no trouble to find your way around.

What I like about all this new wave is the concept of one app in many devices. I don’t have an Xbox (yet) but being able to take a photo with my phone and have sent over my my notebook, tablet or favorite social network, is (for me) a big step forward. I know people with iPhone and Android devices will say “hey, I can do that with my phone already”, I know. I know it’s not rocket science, I’m just saying it’s a time saver to have it now with Windows, the OS my whole family uses… so now my mom won’t be calling me to help her hook the camera with the computer (that’s not a good example since she’s got an iPad, but you get the idea).

What I don’t like for what I’ve seen so far? The Windows Store. I guess Microsoft didn’t think it would grow-up so fast… the Windows Store as we know will NOT scale up. It’s already difficult to find an app. I don’t know what others have done, but it’s almost impossible to find a game I would like with such an awful layout. At this moment the games category has 1033 apps (games) laid out awfully, so unless you’re looking for Angry Birds or Cut the Rope, it’s frustrating to go in there in pursuit of a cool game. I’ve shut the window store app many times without a single download.

Another weird thing is how many apps have the default Visual Studio 2012 templates images. Either from previous preview versions as for the official released version, I’m talking about the little cross in a box or the star. What’s up with that? Why is Microsoft allowing those crappy looking apps into the store?… there’s no way in hell I’ll even pay attention to an app that’s was not paid attention in the first place from its own developers. That not only increases the amount of apps, which in this case is not good, but it also gives the impression of “beta”… and I’m not talking about the apps, I’m talking about the store.

I know what’s going on. There are a bunch of Microsoft developers who saw how others got rich with apps for iOS and/or Android. Nobody thought that could be possible. Even so, five years ago there were 0 (zero) iOS developers, today they say there more than a quarter million. While those “developers” made millions of apps, some Microsoft developers waited for Microsoft to come up with something, and now it did. And I bet those developers thought, “ok, now is my turn. I know this shit, I’ll get a Windows Store app in no time”. Well my friend, you don’t know shit about Windows Store apps. Actually nobody knows, we’re all learning about it, and if you take a look at the official Microsoft made apps, you’ll see they are also learning. So don’t give me that “I know Silverlight and Xaml, I know what I’m doing” cause your app will look like crap if you don’t sit down and read the tons of guidelines out there about Windows Store apps.

I’ve heard a lot lately that the Surface is great; great hardware but no good apps. I can’t believe there’s no facebook app, aren’t you guys friends anymore? and no official twitter app either? I just hope it’s not attempt from Microsoft to “make us” use IE10 instead, like they’re doing with Xbox.

The good news is, we’re making a Windows Store apps generator. I wrote before about it and showed some of the cool features you can take advantage of with our generator. You might be wondering what kind of apps can we build with this generator. Is it final consumer apps or is it enterprise level apps? Yes to both o them. There’s a big showcase of apps we have built with Genexus for iOS and Android, so expect the same apps for Windows 8 soon.

So, is there an app that you wish Windows 8 had but it is not there? Don’t wait for someone else to build something close to what you need. Download Genexus Tilo now, and start creating the next Windows 8 killer app.

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Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Building a code generator, and running a marathon

485778_4347864811580_1796142993_nMany have been told about how writing code resembles to exhaust training. The long hours, the dedication, the exclusion of what others think of fun, and specially how others can’t understand what you do or why you do it. (assuming you also code for fun)

In the latest months I’ve been doing both of them, training for a marathon and writing the Genexus “Tilo” Windows 8 generator… but unlike the Win8 generator, I can say I finished the marathon (in one piece).

Of course I can’t say the generator is finished, the guys from Android and iOS have been working on them for over a year now so there’s a ton of work to be done. But just like while running the marathon(*), I’m not going to think about what’s missing but what we have achieved instead.

In Genexus we care about letting you model your solution, your needs, and don’t worry about what platform you’re targeting. We call it “platform-independent” or “platform-agnostic” but what I think is most important is our “non platform-ignorant” philosophy. And what does that mean for our Win8 generator? That you as a customer will want your app to use all the “cool features”  Windows 8 has as you would if you develop the app from scratch (meaning writing all the code yourself). So the cool thing is we already wrote all that code so it’s dead simple for you to use. Here I’ll show you what we have and what you need to do in order to have it running on your next Genexus Win8 app.

Lives Tiles


Lives Tiles is probably the first feature that will call your attention. This feature allows the “icon” (tile) of you app to show different info about your app. A news app for instances shows the latest news, a weather app shows the current conditions and so forth.

With Genexus all you need is a DataProvider that exposes the data you want to show in your tiles. That DataProvider must populate a known structure (SDT) so the app “knows” what to use for the image and what to use for the description. You have to keep in mind that only the latest 5 tiles will be displayed so you might want to limit that on the server side, on the dataprovider itself.

Genexus will provide the SDT (called ‘TileSDT’) and an example of the DataProvider, so all you need to do is modify the DataProvider to populate the SDT as you wish. Remember the [Count = 5] so you don’t send unused data to your app.

Full Device Integration

This was something simple to implement but it is very useful for apps. If you declare an attribute as an Image and you want your users to edit it they will want to use all the features they already have on the device. So that picture could be a file from the local hard drive, or a photo taken with the device’s camera or use any of the images that image providers apps provide. For instance, Windows 8 comes with a Photos apps that connects with your facebook account, flickr, skydrive and other computers, so you can choose an image from your facebook wall album to upload into your app. Cool uh? 

This comes “out of the box”.

Semantic Zoom


Semantic zoom lets you see a grid with a bigger picture view. So let’s say you’re showing contacts in your app and you have a grid where every item is of course a contact. You might want to reach to someone you know his name starts with an ‘S’ (like me). So you can scroll all the way to the S and then try to find me, or you can ‘pinch’ the grid and you will see a different view of the same grid, now grouped by the first name letter, doing it easier to go straight to the ‘S’ letter.

With Genexus you already have the “break by” feature of a grid, and you can now define different layouts for the same grid. So with that info you can have semantic zoom in your app.

Heterogeneous layouts

You probably had seen this but didn’t know the name of it. Heterogeneous layouts is the feature that allows you to see specific items of a grid with a different layout.

In Genexus you can define different layouts for your grids and pick on runtime the one you one for a specific pattern. Let’s say you want the item of the grid to be a big 2x2 square, or you want every 5 item to show one as a 2x1 ‘column’. Trust me, it sounds hardar than it is.

Search Charm

Charms is another cool feature of Windows 8. With the search charm you can search your apps, files, settings or in the context of an app. So you can search for ‘Angry Birds’ in the context of the Windows Store (which is an app) of course.

Windows 8 Genexus generated apps comply the search contract so once you call it swiping your finger from the right, your app will be there as a search provider.


In Genexus, select the object where you want to display your results by setting the property “Search Result Object”. This object must have a grid with an attribute set as ‘Search’. That attribute will be the one your app will query for.

Share Charm

The share charm allows you share something from you app with someone else. Depending on the sharing apps you have, and the content you’re trying to share, some apps will appear as sharing target. Some of those apps will allow you to twit, send over email, send to skydrive, or maybe publish to your facebook wall.

Share is not an app wide feature, meaning that you must choose for every panel, that suits sharing of course, the attribute/variable you want to share.

Panels in Genexus have now a Share property where you can set the Attribute or Variable you want to share. Another way of sharing is by calling the Interop.SendMessage function.

Everything else

Of course there are tons of features that work as you would expect. Keep in mind we’re not even in beta yet but if you put a Date attribute the Date picker will be display, or an Enum domain will show you a combo or even the dynamic combos (Country – City) work as expected.

As mentioned before, there are some missing features… maps, notifications, audio, and more.

That’s a wrap!

So as you can see, there are quite a few cool Windows 8 features that your Genexus app can take advantage of. I encourage you to join the Genexus betatester program that will be available in a few weeks, download the Genexus Tilo night builds and give this generator a try. Right now there’s a alpha test program (at www.genexus.com/tilo) that you could apply if you have a project for Windows 8 (right now), if you just want to play around with it you’ll have to wait.

Also, just in case you just arrived earth from outer space, there’s this big (22nd) Genexus International Meeting in Montevideo from Oct 1 to Oct 3. There are a few sessions you might be interested in (if you found this post interesting), but there are tons of sessions, keynotes, labs and activities you’ll find amusing and educational. I’ll be there so come down and say hello and I’ll be happy to show you all this features live! It’s easy to locate me, I’ll be the guy in the suit.


As I always say, this is “works on my machine” certified, but this time it’ll be soon ready for your machine :) stay tuned!

* When I reached the km 33 I hit “The Wall”… from that point on it was all will. I knew I had 9 km ahead of me, and by that time that seemed a lot, by I had already ran 33km, so giving up was not in my plans.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The @FindMyPlane bot

A few days ago I wrote about the Genexus Challenge developer edition and my first Smart Devices app, Find my Plane. Once I get, what I think is, a good idea in my head I get around it a lot to improve it in every possible way. But this is not the case, sort of.

Right after I deployed the app to the Apple’s app store, I thought “how can I advertise it, without paying for advertising of course”, I needed people to find out about the app and download it, and a good word about it would be awesome too. So I thought about social networks… Facebook is for friends and I already told them to download it (did I mentioned it’s free?!) so twitter came to mind… but what can I do to promote my app from twitter, other than twitting about it of course.

So I thought of the @FindmyPlane bot and this post will tell you how I did it, not that it’s rocket science, but I found an interesting use of Windows Azure’s Worker Roles*. Wait, what?! you’re gonna tell people how to build a twitter spammer bot? No, let me get into that.

The @FindMyPlane twitter account works like this. You send a twit to @FindMyPlane with your flight number and find my plane will answer that tweet with useful info about it, the same kind of info you’d get in the Find My Plane app, but of course, only the info that fits in 140 characters.

So this is how it works. There’s a worker role (called Receiver) that every ten seconds access the twitter api looking for mentions for the @FindMyPlane account. Once it gets the list of tweets (if any of course) it saves them to a Table from Azure Storage and saves the latest tweet id in a Queue (also from Azure Storage) so the next time it just asks from that tweet on.

This is pretty much the code:

string lastTweet = "";
string previousMessageId = "";
foreach (CloudQueueMessage message in Queue.GetAllMessages(Constants.AZURE_STORAGE_ACCOUNT, Constants.AZURE_STORAGE_KEY, Constants.AZURE_QUEUE))
previousMessageId = message.Id;
lastTweet = message.AsString;

bool first = true;
foreach (Status status in Mentions.GetMentions(fmp, lastTweet))
Table.Insert(Constants.AZURE_STORAGE_ACCOUNT, Constants.AZURE_STORAGE_KEY, Constants.AZURE_TABLE, TweetEntity.FromStatus(status).ToString());
catch { }

if (first)
lastTweet = status.Id;
first = false;

if (!first)
Queue.DeleteMessage(Constants.AZURE_STORAGE_ACCOUNT, Constants.AZURE_STORAGE_KEY, Constants.AZURE_QUEUE, previousMessageId);
Queue.CreateMessage(Constants.AZURE_STORAGE_ACCOUNT, Constants.AZURE_STORAGE_KEY, Constants.AZURE_QUEUE, lastTweet);

And there’s a second Worker Role (called Replier) that every ten seconds queries the table where the tweets were saved for those that have not been replied yet and don’t have errors. For every tweet I try to get info of the flight number sent, if I do find info, I reply the tweet with that info and update the record on the table as replied. If I can’t find info, let’s say you tweeted “@FindMyPlane is awesome!” I update the record as ‘with errors’. This is just a way for me to know when I couldn’t reply because of an error on the system or because what I got was not a valid flight number.

Code here:

string query = "Replied eq 'False' and Error eq 'False'";
foreach (TableEntity entity in Table.Query(Constants.AZURE_STORAGE_ACCOUNT, Constants.AZURE_STORAGE_KEY, Constants.AZURE_TABLE, query))
string flightNumber = entity["Text"].ToUpper().Replace("@FINDMYPLANE ", "");
FlightInfo info = FlightStatus.GetFlightStatus(flightNumber);
string tweet = string.Format("@{0} {1}", entity["UserScreenname"], info);
Update.UpdateStatus(tweet, fmp, entity["Id"]);
entity["Replied"] = "True";

Table.UpdateEntity(Constants.AZURE_STORAGE_ACCOUNT, Constants.AZURE_STORAGE_KEY, Constants.AZURE_TABLE, entity);
entity["Error"] = "True";
Table.UpdateEntity(Constants.AZURE_STORAGE_ACCOUNT, Constants.AZURE_STORAGE_KEY, Constants.AZURE_TABLE, entity);
Table.DeleteEntity(Constants.AZURE_STORAGE_ACCOUNT, Constants.AZURE_STORAGE_KEY, Constants.AZURE_TABLE, entity.PartitionKey, entity.RowKey);

Cool uh?!

Here’s how all this works together


(*) for a good read on the Azure platform, Worker Roles and Storage (Table, Queues & Blobs) go to: http://bit.ly/SGAzure

You can download the ‘Find my Plane’ for Android and for iPhone.

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Saturday, June 09, 2012

Find my Plane

At Genexus we had a little contest. We had a few contest before where we asked customers and friends to create a cool app for Smart Devices with our brand new Smart Devices generator. Of course we could not participate, it would be unfair… (or at least that’s what they thought).

So a month ago, Gastón told us we would have an internal contest, it was called “GX Challenge (Developer Edition)” in which whoever wanted to participate had to build an app. Who wins? whoever gets the most downloads per app.

The most difficult thing is of course to come up with a good/cool idea, and I’m not saying that I finally came to a real good idea, with it was something that I’d definitely enjoy doing. So that’s how Find my Plane appeared.

Find my Plane is a simple app where you enter a flight number and the app would give you info about the flight. From where to where, terminal and gate (where available) and if the flight is on time or delayed, and even as Nicolás found out, if the plane was diverted to a different location.

But it was still too simple. Who would download an app like that if you can get that info and more from other apps? So I added a few things. First, thanks to wunderground.com API I added the weather of both departure and arrival airports of the flight, plus another small feature that is being able to listen to the air traffic controllers available from the mentioned airports. You can get all that from different apps, but I haven’t seen one with all those features combined so I thought it would be a cool app, and fun to develop.

It’s been on the Android Marketplace (AKA Google Play) for over 2 weeks now with a little over 100 downloads plus 200+ downloads from the Apple Marketplace in less than a week.

Here’s a little video of what the app looks like (on the Android emulator)

Like what you see? Download it now!



p.s: Did I mention it is FREE!

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Monday, March 12, 2012

Colored log4net log files in Notepad++

Some time ago, I can’t tell exactly when, I discovered Notepad++ (NPP). NPP is a great light weight text editor with tons of cool features.
I’m also a big fun of log4Net since I discovered when I added the logging features to Genexus and GXserver. It is so easy to implement and helpful that I have used it in every project I worked ever since.
So in my daily basis I get to work with log4net log files a lot. I was doing so last Saturday when it hit me, “I need syntax coloring for this”.
So I looked up and found a great post from Jon Galloway that explains how you can create your own “User Defined Language” in NPP. To my surprise it was pretty simple since NPP has a dialog to do so, I thought I’d have to some xml editing. The dialog does that for you and what’s even better you can see the results of what you’re changing while you’re doing it. 
The result is (to me) pretty cool. It’s now a lot easier to find the ERROR or WARN lines.
I also added a couple of features that basically are a better way to focus on what’s important.
Numbers are in yellow, single quoted strings are in red, each keyword (INFO, DEBUG, ERROR, WARN, FATAL) has its own color, plus I also added “comments”. By using the good old // to comment a line or /* to comment a block */, you can help you and others to pay attention to what really matters, or at least what you think matters.
So, how do you get this?
Simple way: If you have never defined of modified a User defined Language, you can simply download the posted file and override your existent in %APPDATA%\Notepad++ (Make sure you backup your file first)
“Harder” way: if you have modified of added a user defined language, you probably know what to do but anyways, download the file (same from above) open it in your favorite text editor ;) and copy the UserLang tag with its content and copy it to your current userDefineLang.xml file.

**We moved to GitHub! Download the file from: https://github.com/sebagomez/log4net-for-notepadpp

As usual, this is 100% “works on my machine” certified.works-on-my-machine]

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