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Markus on Development and Publishing

This is Markus Egger's professional blog, which covers topics such as development, publishing, and business in general. As the publisher of CoDe and CoDe Focus magazines, and as the President and Chief Software Architect of EPS Software Corp., Markus shares his insights and opinions on this blog.

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Tuesday, August 30, 2005
Sign Up for Free Issues of CoDe Focus Magazine!

Every so often, we produce special issues of CoDe Magazine that focus in on a specific topic. We call these special issues CoDe Focus Magazines.

These magazines are distributed at special events such as conferences or product launches. We generally distribute them free of charge to our subscribers and additional mailing lists. If you are interested in receiving such free magazines, click the link below. (Regardless if you are a current subscriber or not! Everyone qualifies for a free issue!)

Click here to be added to the list!

There are several issues planned at this point. One that will ship fairly soon targets Tablet PC and Mobile PC Development. The link above will allow you to sign up for those issues and also for issues beyond that. This will give us a good idea of what topics we should be tackling first. So make sure you tell us about as many of your interests as possible.

Feel free to pass this on to your friends...



Posted @ 6:31 PM by Egger, Markus (megger@eps-software.com) -
Comments (19)


Thursday, August 18, 2005
Amazing Color Illusions

Colors are amazing. Not only are colors perceived differently by different people, but they are also perceived differently when positioned relative to other colors.

Check out these amazing examples:
http://www.echalk.co.uk/amusements/OpticalIllusions/colourPerception/colourPerception.html

This should give UI designers something to think about...



Posted @ 5:08 PM by Egger, Markus (megger@eps-software.com) -
Comments (31)


Tuesday, August 16, 2005
Another Conference is Sold Out!

This has been a pretty interesting year for conferences. The ones in the spring had been well attended. MEDC was good. DevConnections (www.devconnections.com) was good. TechEd was sold out. DevTeach (www.DevTeach.com) was well attended (this is the conference we were involved with directly through CoDe Magazine - www.code-magazine.com). And the conference that has really big news has not even happened yet! And if you are not signed up already, then it is too late now, because PCD05 is now sold out!

This is pretty amazing. I have seen a few sold-out conferences before, but this year seems to be a particularly good conference year. Not too surprising I guess when one considers the leap in technology we are all about to make with Windows Vista (Longhorn) and WinFX. Nevertheless, this sort of logic has not always lead to good event attendance. Perhaps this is also a good sign for the IT industry as a whole? I hope so...



Posted @ 5:06 PM by Egger, Markus (megger@eps-software.com) -
Comments (22)


Thursday, August 11, 2005
Microsoft Meltdown 2005

If you have any interest in game *development*, you should check out this article about Microsoft Meltdown 2005:

http://www.extremetech.com/article2/0,1697,1841218,00.asp

There are some interesting new technologies hidden in Windows Vista, such as DirectX 10 and WinSAT. Check it out!



Posted @ 5:03 PM by Egger, Markus (megger@eps-software.com) -
Comments (40)


Thursday, August 11, 2005
The Aero Window "Zoom" Effect

Yesterday I posted about the much discussed transparency effect applied by Aero Glass. However, there is a second trick Windows Vista (Longhorn) has up his sleeve when the Aero Glass style is active, and people have been pretty outspoken about this effect as well: The Window "zoom" effect. Basically, when you open a Window with the Aero Glass style active, the window seems to open up at a slightly smaller size than it ends up being, and then performs a real quick animation to the final size. Closing a Window has the opposite effect. It looks rather nice.

Once again, I decided to take a closer look at this particular effect, because it didn't strike me as a true "zoom" effect when I first saw it. When someone says "zoom effect", I usually think of a simple change in size. But this is not at all what happens here. Just as it was the case with the transparency effect, there is much more here than meets the eye at first. Here's a screen shot that shows 3 frames from the IE Find Window "zooming" into view:

 

For one, the animation also applies a transparency effect (this time, it's a simple alpha blend... only the very last frame applies the true transparency effect I talked about yesterday). What is more interesting however is that the window is not zoomed, but tilted in 3D space. This is most obvious in the first frame, where you can see that the window clearly has a trapezoid shape (the same is true for all the controls in the window). For people familiar with DirectX, this is a familiar sight. The Window is simply moved through 3D space. For a "conventional" window however, this ability is completely new.

You can also observe a similar effect when a window is closing. The fact that the window is moved through 3D space is a bit more obvious when the window is larger:

 

In case you have a hard time seeing how the window is not rectangular the way it would be in 2D space, or in a conventional zoom operation, here is a similar screen shot, with a red outline showing the shape the window would have in 2D space:

 

As with the transparency effect, the difference between this and normal zoom is quite subtle, but what is interesting is the technology that drives the process. For the first time, Aero (and Avalon) allow us to move things in 3D space, without having to open special 3D view-ports or anything similar. Pretty cool!



Posted @ 3:56 PM by Egger, Markus (megger@eps-software.com) -
Comments (42)


Wednesday, August 10, 2005
A Close Look at Aero Glass Transparency

If you follow the blog-posts about Windows Vista Beta 1 (formerly Windows "Longhorn"), then you surely have seen discussions about the new transparent look of the Aero Glass style. Some people think it is awesome, other say "I had a similar skin on Windows XP/Linux", or whatever your operating system of choice might be. Others just plain do not like it. So there are a lot of opinions floating around, but I noticed that there is little technical depth behind these discussions. It is all just about "this is transparent and I do/do not like it", but what struck me immediately when I first installed the Glass style is that this ain't no ordinary transparency; and what they are doing is very interesting from a technical point of view. So I decided to take a close look at the transparency.

Basically, if you have not seen the Aero Glass style, the deal is that things like the title bars of windows are semi-transparent, allowing the user to see what is behind the window. In some apps, the transparency goes a step further. In Vista's IE7 for instance, even the address, navigation, and search bar is semi-transparent.

In conventional user interfaces, transparency was done through alpha blending. If there was a white area that was 50% transparent, then each pixel behind white area was blended together by basically coming up with a merged color that was a combination of 50% white and 50% whatever the color behind the pixel was. (Imagine this like a weighted average). The transparency in Aero Glass however is completely different and not just a simple Alpha-blend. To demonstrate the difference, I created a small sample. The following image shows the same text area 3 times. The first time without any overlaid transparent object, the second one with Aero Glass transparency, and the third one with an alpha blended transparent window:

Click to see a full-size image...
Note: Click the image to see a full-size version.

As you can see, the simply alpha-blend (bottom image) simply shows the original window content with only a slight change in color. Everything is still perfectly sharp (everything to the contrary is caused by the JPEG format I used for this image). The transparency simply blended the colors of each pixel.

The Aero Glass version (in the middle) on the other hand doesn't change the color of each pixel, but it applies a real-time graphical blur effect. If you look closely, you can see that the effect is even slightly different further to the right (once again, the image is not entirely true to the original look, since I save this as a JPEG). This is very different from conventional transparency and therefore very different from skins that were available in the past.

What is of significance here is not whether or not one likes this effect, or whether or not it matters that it looks slightly different on a pixel level. What matters to me is the technology used for this. I do not have any hard knowledge as to how this effect is created. It certainly isn't alpha-blending though, and if I would have to make a guess, I would say that this is a pixel shader. And that gets me excited! Just think of the abilities one has when pixel and vertex shaders become available in conventional UIs...



Posted @ 5:35 PM by Egger, Markus (megger@eps-software.com) -
Comments (38)


Monday, August 08, 2005
Blog Pet-Peeve: Tell Me Who the Heck You Are!

Here's a thing that bugs me like no tomorrow: When you are writing a blog, tell me who the heck you are!

I just went on Google to find someone with knowledge about a specific technology and found someone's blog who wrote very well and knowledgable about the subject I was interested in. "Cool!", I thought, "I am going to send this person an email and offer them some money for content we can use for CoDe Magazine...". But no! No name to be found anywhere. The author had apparently thought long and hard about coming up with a cool name for the blog and in the process completely eliminated his name off the thing.

Guess what: I will now send my money to a different author who had his name and email address on his blog. I am sure the first guy will get less spam than person #2, but he also does less business.

I seem to have similar problems all the time. Just the other day, I remembered that someone had written about a certain topic in his blog, so I opened up my RSS reader and tried to find his feed in my lengthy list of subscriptions. But no mention of his name in the blog name! Argh! Before I was able to find his feed, I lost interest and he lost business.

What a stupid reason to miss out on business, publicity, fame, or whatever it is you are trying to achieve with a blog. I mean, if people do not want to be out in public, then why have a blog?!? Doesn't this defeat the very purpose?



Posted @ 6:44 PM by Egger, Markus (megger@eps-software.com) -
Comments (151)


Monday, August 08, 2005
Messing Around with Windows Vista's (Longhorn's) Aero Glass Style

I have not messed around with Windows Vista (formerly "Longhorn") in a while, so I thought I'd try out Beta 1 again. I decided to buy a new computer (I kinda needed one anyway) and install it on that machine and try to work with it as much as possible, using it for whatever I have to do (for real and not just playing around as I had done with Longhorn in the past).

The first thing that caught me by surprise was that the 3D accelerator I had in that brand new machine was not good enough to run Aero Glass (the brand new visual style everyone is talking about), so everything looked a little different from XP, but it wasn't even close to what I had hoped for. Also, I realized that a lot of things were a lot buggier than I had thought. My system crashed a few times right away. I installed MS Office including Outlook, but important features like "Reply to All" did not work at all. I also tried to install Visual Studio 2005 Beta 2 and that just crashed (no error message, but a real crash).

Eventually, I decided to upgrade my system (which I guess was already outdated after I had it for 24 hours) with a new graphics card. I wanted an ATI card, because I had read online that ATI cards worked a lot better than the nvidia ones with the Beta 1 build. Unfortunately, I could only get an nvidia card on short notice, since I had very specific requirements (256MB, DX9 and Shader3 compliant). Luckily, I got the card to work with one of the experimental drivers nvidia has on their web site.

What I got in return was a nicer UI as well as a number of side-benefits I hadn't expected. All of a sudden, the "Reply to All" feature in Outlook started to work. The install of Visual Studio 2005 Beta 2 worked without a problem. Similar improvements all over the place. No more crashes so far either. Very odd. Much better performance (which I expected). I am not sure why, but running the bleeding edge UI seems to be a lot more stable than running the old stuff.

So how do I like Aero Glass? Well, it certainly has a certain coolness factor, and as someone who really likes UI design, this kind of thing gets me excited. A lot of the effects people are discussing are a lot more sophisticated than one would think at first (more about that in future posts). The transparency is nifty. I am not sure yet how quick it grows old though (I have done my share of cool UI stuff that I grew tired of in a matter of days...). Readability of things like title bars def. suffers. Plus, I am not completely certain yet whether or not the transparency effect gives me headaches...



Posted @ 4:52 PM by Egger, Markus (megger@eps-software.com) -
Comments (15)


Wednesday, August 03, 2005
Tablet PC Market Expected to Soar

I guess a lot of people have expected the Tablet PC market to take off right after the initial release of the first devices. This never happened to that extent. A lof of people seem to be waiting for the "killer app". Personally, I think is just plain nonsense. Tablet PCs are extremely useful for all kinds of things. They add value to pretty much any application there is. The "killer feature" of Tablet PCs is that they provide functionality that adds value at all times. Waiting for a single killer scenario just seems to be a completely incorrect paradigm.

I see Tablet PC functionality in a similar light as computer mice. What is the killer app of a computer mouse? Windows? The same is true for Tablet PCs and Ink. Today, nobody programs an application that is targetting mice. They are just supported all the time. We need to get to a point where things work the same way with Ink. All apps should support it, and developers should keep ink capabilities in mind and make sure they work well in all applications. And this has to be possible (and already is possible) with very little effort on the developer's side.

Anyway: I am getting side tracked here <s>. What I really meant to say was that analysts are now predicting that the Tablet PC market will soar. Check out this article:

http://www.tomshardware.com/hardnews/20050727_123053.html



Posted @ 5:04 AM by Egger, Markus (megger@eps-software.com) -
Comments (16)


Monday, August 01, 2005
No more Longhorn, Avalon, and Indigo...

Windows "Longhorn" is now "Vista" per the announcement of a few days ago (as you probably know). Here's another new set of names: Avalon is now called "Windows Presentation Foundation" or "WPF", and Indigo is "Windows Communication Foundation" or "WCF".

Here are some links for more info: WPF - WCF

I don't know. Maybe I am just negative, but I do not like these names all that much. It seems MS just has this boring way of naming things, driven by the overall desire to push the Windows brand. It seems to me that it has gone to a point where it actually backfires. Example: Windows Media Player. Nobody says "I am WindowsMediaPlayerCasting...". Even if someone is, they would say "I am podcasting". So it seems to me that the branding is getting in the way of marketing for MS. The notable exception is probably Windows Vista, where it seems likely that people will drop the "Windows" part when they refer to it. In the past, people said they were using "Windows XP". Now they probably will say "I use Vista".

It just seems backward and not that great marketing-wise. But then again, it seems we see somewhat of a reversal. In the past, MS had "so-so" products and great marketing. Now the products rock, yet the marketing seems to only do ok (at best) in what seems to be an attempt to "out-apple" Apple.

But nobody ever asks me about these things. <s> If they did however, I'd have another suggestion for them: Rename the new .NET transaction namespace into "Windows Transaction Foundation". In short: WTF.



Posted @ 3:43 AM by Egger, Markus (megger@eps-software.com) -
Comments (19)


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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