Monthly Archives: July 2010

A disappointing Windows Marketplace (mobile developer) experience.

windows-phone-7-frontMicrosoft is going to market late this calendar year with Windows Phone 7, a completely revamped mobile platform set to take on the likes of Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android platforms. From a technical perspective I’m excited about the platform and I think that it could easily be the technically superior option on the market. Unfortunately, being technically superior won’t ensure success – Microsoft needs to attract application developers to their platform – and that means they need to compete with Apple’s AppStore (in particular).

To find out what the experience was going to be liked I payed the subscription fee and signed up to Windows Marketplace for Mobile via the Windows Phone web-site in the hope that I could publish a few applications when the capability became available.

Unfortunately I made a small typo during the sign-up process (just the capitalisation of a single letter) and only noticed when I received the confirmation e-mail a few moments later. I rejected the confirmation message in the hopes that I could go back and correct the mistake and continue with the process. I realised that I was in for some pain when I couldn’t change the name of the company within the Edit panel inside Marketplace. Time for a support e-mail.

The good thing about the Marketplace support was that I got a speedy response, unfortunately the response was disappointing. I was advised that:

  1. They are not able to change the company name.
  2. I’ll have to repeat the process and pay the fee again (no refund on the fee already payed).
  3. I cannot use the same Live ID.

I just about fell off my chair, there are so many problems with that response. Firstly changing the name of the company must be a supported scenario because there are legitimate business scenarios (mergers/acquisitions etc) where a developer organisation might need to do this. I can probably live with #2, I made the mistake so if there are costs associated with GeoTrust doing an identity check then so be it, but it does leave a slightly bitter taste in my mouth since I though I was paying for a subscription that implied a level of support for circumstances just like this.

Finally – the one that really burns is if I did want to restart the whole process I can’t use the same Live ID. Whilst this is easy enough to do, identity management is enough of a problem without randomly creating Live IDs with every encounter I have with Microsoft. We use a standard Live ID account for all subscription/partnership related activities – and you can bet that not having this ID aligned will bite us in the future.

Ultimately I still want to move ahead with the Windows Marketplace and get some apps published but I have very little confidence that every time I step off the beaten path that I’m going to be asked to create a new Live ID and sign-up again. I’m hoping that someone from the Windows Marketplace for Mobile team sees this and can help me address the issues. Working with support hasn’t happened (so far).

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Rory Primrose posts outline of his talk.

Rory Primrose has posted an outline of his upcoming Code Camp Oz talk. Even though Rory is looking at Windows Identity Foundation from a non-federation perspective. I also think that Windows Identity Foundation is a significant technology when combined with tools such as ADFS (Active Directory Federation Services) because it allows you to deploy applications on Windows Azure and integrate them into your organisations identity stores.

The good thing about coming along to Code Camp Oz and seeing Rory’s session is that you’ll get a grounding in the claims based security model behind WIF as well as some practical exposure on how to use it inside your applications – even if you aren’t using federation. Its basically setting you up for the future.

Dell Precision M4500, the Volvo of mobile workstations.

dell-jpgRight now, on my desk I have three fairly serious notebook computers. I’m typing this on my MacBook Pro 17” (running Windows 7), to my right I have my HP Envy 15” (running Windows Server 2008 R2) and to my left I have a brand spanking new Dell Precision M4500 (15”), which is also running Windows Server 2008 R2.

The Precision isn’t mine, I’m putting a base line configuration on it so that I can induct some interns next week into the way that a developer can/should configure their PC to be as flexible as possible. We purchased three Precision laptops for the interns to use. In the past we’ve had delivery problems from Dell, particularly with the XPS range of laptops and I was almost ready to go to another supplier to get the kit that we required.

I’ve spent a bit of time with the machine and so far and have been impressed by the sturdiness and build quality. Performance seems to be OK but the initial load of software isn’t that stressful. I’d expect most workstation grade laptops to work pretty well there – its definitely better than the HP Envy 15” as far as that is concerned which whilst boasting some pretty impressive specs doesn’t have as good build quality and possibly lacks some of the serviceability.

volvo-logoAs I was using it though I made an observation that the Dell Precision M4500 is very much the Volvo of mobile workstations. It doesn’t look pretty, but what it lacks in looks, it makes up for in engineering. It has some other things in common with a Volvo.

  1. You aren’t going to get many girls whilst using it.
  2. If you got hit by one you’d probably regret it (heavy and sharp)
  3. It has plenty of luxuries that you might not expect (such as HSDPA modem).

Overall though, I know my new interns aren’t going to be left wanting for power, and we’ll be configuring them so they run Windows 2008 R2 (to support Hyper-V) and then doing a VHD boot to Windows 7 if they want a non virtualised office environment (with a few essential development tools).

Would I go for one over my MacBook Pro? Possibly. Whilst they are two very different animals I can see the appeal. If I rocked up at a customer and opened that beast they know I would mean business.

End of Financial Year – A Retrospective

In the past I’ve tended to reflect on the year that was around Christmas time. However after I took my new role (can I still call it a new role?) it felt premature to look at what I had (and hadn’t) achieved given that at Readify our year ends on 30 June.

When I took the role of CTO I had a number of very clear objectives to achieve this year. The first was to come up with a well defined managed service offering around solution development. All the raw building blocks were there – great people, great technology and a good understanding of agile principles. What we ended up with was the “DevPod” offering.

DevPod

Before you say it, no I haven’t stolen a page from Steve Job’s marketing handbook. If you look at the definition of the word “pod” you can see that it is more about either the concept of grouping or a vessel containing the seeds of growth. And that is really what our DevPod offering is all about – we provide the right mix of people, technology and process to ensure that our customers software dreams can be turned into a reality.

Overall I think the DevPod offering has been a success this year with three out of three projects successfully delivered with happy customers. We have more in the pipeline and I am confident our success will continue. One part of that success is that we use Scrum as our core delivery methodology and invest in helping customers understand that process. The second part of our success is tooling. Our first two projects made use of Visual Studio 2008 and Team Foundation Server 2008, we later migrated to Visual Studio 2010 and Team Foundation Server 2010 and I think we rode the BETA/RC wave quite well. The end result is that we now have a sophisticated development and test lab environment where we can run multiple projects simultaneously.

Finally – but perhaps more importantly our people actually take responsibility for the delivery. You can’t underestimate the impact that having a committed team has on the outcomes of your project. Because they actually care about the outcome they are much more likely to identify and adapt to issues during the lifetime of the project and they have the bravery to raise issues early. Personally I’d like to thank everyone at Readify who has been involved in delivering a DevPod project over the last twelve months.

SupportPod

Of course you don’t spend twelve months working on a problem without learning some lessons. The first lesson is that some of our customers don’t just see us as a one shot implementation team. They actually want us to deliver and then manage the application through its lifecycle. Whilst we do this internally for our own line of business applications, when we went to market with the DevPod offering we assumed that customers would want to transition the asset into their internal development teams. Sometimes this was true – sometimes it wasn’t.

As a result we had to bring to market our second managed service offering – SupportPod. What we wanted to do with SupportPod is use the same sophisticated development and test lab to provide ongoing maintenance and support for software applications. Software is either handed over from a DevPod or on-boarded into our environment.

Once the software is established in the SupportPod we continually triage issues entered in via our CRM system, some are pure support issues and some are software engineering challenges. In this model we can provide the high level support required for line of business applications and can enhance and release new versions of the software over time (ensuring quality with the consistent use of our test lab).

Once again I am left thanking individuals within the business that have made this possible including members of the management team who have given the offering the runway required to get off the ground and the day to operational support to the individual members of the SupportPod who are already producing value.

Retrospective

In retrospect there are things that we did well, and will keep doing, and things that we could do better. The above is really around what we did well. One of the areas that I want to improve is really our flow through the SupportPod. When we first started we contemplated whether something like Kanban could be used but for various reasons our SupportPod has ended up using a traditional fail/triage/fix routine. I personally need to do more research on how Kanban can be used with a blended Support/Sustained Engineering environment.

Come Join Us

Readify is on a journey and we have a purpose. If you want to join the team please send me an e-mail (no recruiters please). We have positions open ranging from support, sustained engineering, development and consulting and are always looking for good people.